John Higgins relishing ‘Class of ’92’ Masters showdown with Mark Williams

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John Higgins is relishing his “Class of ’92” showdown with Mark Williams at the Cazoo Masters after safely negotiating his passage to the second round.

The Scot, making a record 28th appearance at the invitation event at Alexandra Palace, eased past Zhao Xintong 6-2 to book a clash with fellow 46-year-old Williams, who disposed of defending champion Yan Bingtao on Sunday.

Asked about his rivalry with Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan – the trio having claimed 13 world titles between them since emerging from the ranks in the early 1990s – Higgins told BBC Sport: “I think when we used to play, maybe 10 years ago, maybe there was more rivalry.

“I can’t speak for the other two guys, but when I go out and I’m across from Mark and Ronnie, there’s a sense of now you’re proud that you’re still there, you’re still competing.

“I look up to those guys, I think they’re two amazing players. I’ll just go out on Thursday night and hopefully we’ll have a great match.”

Higgins cruised to victory over an out-of-sorts Zhao, opening with a break of 100 to take the first frame and responding to his opponent’s 128 clearance in the second by taking a 4-1 lead including a visit of 104 in the fifth.

UK champion Zhao reduced the deficit, but Higgins took a scrappy seventh frame before closing out the win with a break of 78, later citing his recent weight-loss as a factor in his performance.

He said: “I’ve never done any fitness work in my whole life, my whole career, and I could feel in the last few years really the nerves getting to me a little bit more.

“But now with just doing a little bit of fitness and losing a bit of weight, it helps 100 per cent.”

In the evening session, Barry Hawkins won five frames on the trot as he beat Shaun Murphy 6-2 to progress to the quarter-finals.

Hawkins claimed a tight opening frame with a break of 65, but failed to take advantage of an outrageous fluke in the second when he left himself cueing over a red and missed the pot, allowing Murphy to level with a 69, and the next two were also shared.

Murphy looked set to go 3-2 ahead, but a missed pink allowed Hawkins to snatch the lead with a clearance of 60, and he built upon it with breaks of 103 and 69 to give himself daylight at 5-2 before seeing out a victory which puts him in line to face either world champion Mark Selby or Stephen Maguire.

“It’s the first time I’ve felt like a snooker player all season, really,” Hawkins told Eurosport. “I’m pleased with that.”

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