With a tenacious 10-9 victory over top seed Zhao Xintong, John Higgins overcame a four-frame deficit to advance to the Cazoo Tour Championship semi-finals.
The four-time world champion, whose spot in the elite eight-man event in Llandudno was only assured after Kyren Wilson lost in Saturday’s Gibraltar Open final, was out of sorts for the most of his quarter-final on Monday.
Zhao produced three centuries as the UK Championship winner took an 8-4 lead, but Higgins dug deep to win five consecutive frames and move within one frame of a stunning victory.
The first four frames were split, but Zhao, the event’s top seed, looked the brighter and grabbed the next three to establish control with breaks of 124 and 108.
Higgins won a gritty eighth ” to cut the deficit to 5-3 at the end of the afternoon session, then went on to win the first frame of the evening.
Despite this, Zhao appeared to be the more likely winner as he reeled off the next three frames, recording his third century of the match with a 128 clearance in the 11th set and adding 71 in the 12th.
Higgins refused to throw in the towel, however, and clawed his way back to 8-7 before levelling at 8-8 courtesy of his highest break of the match, 83.
Zhao showed signs of nerves as Higgins won a fifth frame in a row after a run of 59 but the Chinese player responded strongly to set up the decider with a break of 64.
The final frame was stressful, with safety play at the forefront, but Higgins methodically established a lead over the course of several visits to the table and eventually finished the job.
“He was playing like the world-class player he is and I was playing like a club player,” he said.
“It was embarrassing. Me playing bad brought Zhao down to my level.”
“I can’t believe I won it,” he added. “I don’t know how I won it. My play wasn’t good all day. I’m delighted I’m through but I can’t believe it.
“You never give in but you think deep down it’s just not going today, you just can’t wait for him to finish you off.”
“It’s a brilliant win, one of my best wins ever really, to come from 8-4 down against someone like Zhao.”
“It would have been difficult to play at the Crucible after a big defeat, bad vibes,” said Higgins.
“But now I have a second life here I can go home, practise, put some hours on the table, then come back and give Judd or Luca a game on Saturday. I’m really lucky.”
Higgins advances to the semi-finals on Saturday, when he will face the winner of Thursday’s game between Judd Trump and Luca Brecel, and he feels that a “second life” in the event will help him prepare for the World Championship at the Crucible.