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Snooker: Higgins hoping to make the most of his lucky break

John Higgins was made to sweat for his place at the Tour Championship but the legendary Scot will now be looking to make the most of his opportunity at Venue Cymru.

Higgins, who just about scraped home in the final seeding, kicks off the prestigious eight-man tournament against Zhao Xintong after a remarkable Gibraltar Open where he lost in the last 32, only to be saved in respect of earning a spot in the Tour Championship as Robert Milkins beat Kyren Wilson in the final to deny the Warrior a place in Wales.

The four-time world champion has reached four finals this season but has yet to get over the finishing line and his recent run of results has been relatively poor by his own exceptionally high standards.

Woe on The Rock

Jimmy Robertson eliminated him in Gibraltar and Higgins even went out in the first round of the German Masters to Noppon Saengkham.

However, the 46-year-old's Crucible record highlights his preferred love of the longer format and this best-of-19 competition from round one allows his tactical nous to come into play.

Higgins beat Xintong earlier on this season at the Masters and is 8/13 to do so again on Monday. although the Chinese sensation, the number one seed, is wildly inconsistent.

Xintong has lost in the first or second round of tournaments 10 times this season but he has also won twice - the UK Championship and German Masters.

The German Masters triumph was remarkable with Xintong beating compatriot Yan Bingtao 9-0 in the final. However, the UK Championship success was the more important as it put him top of the one-year rankings to make the 24-year-old the number one seed this week at Venue Cymru.

Longer format suits top players

The Tour Championship was new to the snooker calendar in 2019 but has quickly established itself as a key part of the schedule to it being the last proper chance to fine-tune ahead of next month's World Championship. And, just like the Crucible, all matches are played over a longer distance, which often allows the cream to rise to the top.

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Neil Robertson have played in two of the previous three finals with one victory apiece. They will be back for more, along with Higgins, Xintong, Judd Trump, Luca Brecel, Mark Williams and 2020 runner-up Mark Allen.

O'Sullivan and Robertson can't make it a hat-trick of finals with the pair potentially meeting in the semi-finals if they can first see off Williams and Allen respectively.

Class of 92 still going strong

All eyes will be on Wednesday's quarter-final showdown between Class of 92 duo O'Sullivan and Williams, with the Rocket 4/11.

Between them they have won nine world titles and 62 ranking events but when it comes to head-to-head battles, it is usually the Rocket who comes out on top.

He has triumphed in the last four meetings, excluding the short-format Championship League, and overall has won 33 and drawn three of their 48 battles over a staggering 30-year professional period for both legends of the green baize.

O'Sullivan, who won the Grand Prix earlier this season, warmed up for this event with a shock first-round exit to Ben Woollaston in Gibraltar but the 46-year-old is selective over which tournaments he gives his full attention.

This should be more to his liking but anyone backing the Rocket needs to be aware of his poor recent record in finals, losing six of his last seven in ranking events.

Robertson can defend crown

One of those came against Robertson in this event last year and the prolific Aussie will be a dangerous man to overcome in Wales as he looks to add to his three titles this season.

Robertson has already won the English Open, Masters and Players Championship but he has lost six of his last seven matches against quarter-final foe Allen.

That will perk Allen up but his form has tailed off since winning his home Northern Ireland Open earlier in the campaign.
 
A semi-final appearance in the German Masters was a step in the right direction but the betting suggests the Pistol will have to eliminate both Robertson and O'Sullivan just to reach the final.

The top half of the draw looks weaker, with Xintong, Higgins, Trump and Brecel doing battle.

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Trump has had a particularly odd year and only booked his place in the Tour Championship thanks to a strong run in recent weeks, reaching the final of the Welsh Open and following that with the Turkish Masters title.

The Ace in the Pack took a step back in Gibraltar, playing poorly despite reaching the fourth round where he was hammered 4-0 by Ricky Walden.

Quarter-final opponent Brecel won the Scottish Open and reached the final of the UK Championship earlier this season but has done little of note recently, offering Trump a decent chance to grow into the tournament as highlighted by match odds of 3/10.

Despite the more difficult draw, Robertson still looks the man to back to win the Tour Championship at 3/1.

He looked in great nick at the Masters and loves this tournament. The fact he has won four of his last five matches against probable semi-final opponent O'Sullivan is another reason to fancy the Aussie ace.

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