John Higgins overturned a four-frame deficit to reach the semi-finals of the Cazoo Tour Championship with a battling 10-9 win over top seed Zhao Xintong.
he four-time world champion, whose place in the elite eight-strong event in Llandudno was only confirmed when Kyren Wilson lost in Saturday’s Gibraltar Open final, looked out of sorts for most of his quarter-final on Monday.
Zhao compiled three centuries as the UK Championship winner opened up an 8-4 lead but Higgins dug deep to grind out five successive frames and move within one of a remarkable victory.
Zhao hit back to take the match to a decider but Higgins showed his experience to set up a last-four date with Judd Trump or Luca Brecel.
Higgins told ITV: “I can’t believe I won that. I was embarrassed with myself at 8-4.
“I was sat there thinking, ‘He’s playing like the world-class player he is and I’m playing like a club player.
“I didn’t fancy coming back at all but then he started missing a couple and I started hitting a little bit better.
“I was still all over the place, but I dragged him down to my level. Without a shadow of a doubt, that’s why I’ve won.”
The opening four frames were shared but Zhao, who came into the event as the top seed, looked the brighter and took the next three to establish control with breaks of 124 and 108 along the way.
Higgins won a scrappy eighth frame to reduce the arrears to 5-3 at the end of the afternoon session and followed up to take the first of the evening.
Yet Zhao still looked the more likely winner as he reeled off the next three frames, knocking in his third century of the match with a 128 clearance in the 11th frame 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 tense with safety play to the fore, but Higgins steadily built a lead over the course of several visits to the table and eventually completed the job.