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Higgins off-colour as fans steer clear of pilot event

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John Higgins

John Higgins

VCG via Getty Images

John Higgins

John Higgins was on the verge of completing a fightback to avoid a shock first-round exit at the World Snooker Championship on a day where the sport's organisers were forced to defend the sight of a sparsely attended Crucible Theatre.

Four-time world champion Higgins saw an overnight 4-3 deficit extended to 7-4 by China's world No.52 Tian Pengfei before he dug deep to claim five frames on the spin, including a sublime break of 127 in frame 16, to move within one of victory at 9-7.

However, the duo were pulled off the table before being able to complete the match, due to the evening session needing to start, with the game scheduled to be finished afterwards.

Despite the fightback, it was far from vintage Higgins and if he did come through, then a vastly improved display would be needed to keep his chances of a first world title since 2011 alive.

Meanwhile, the Crucible was suffering something of an attendance crisis, with only 83 tickets sold for yesterday morning's session.

The World Championship is being used as a pilot event for supporters to return safely to sporting arenas - with the 980-seat venue permitted to be 33% full for first-round matches, and that percentage increasing throughout the tournament.

But restrictions on hotel and restaurant use, as well as the stringent Covid safety measures in place to even enter the venue, appear to have put fans off.

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A spokesman for World Snooker Tour said: "It has been fantastic to be the first government pilot event and to welcome back limited crowds. The numbers later in the event are much bigger, with some sessions over the coming weekend and final close to sell-out.

"We can assure all fans that all measures are taken to keep safety as a priority. We encourage them to read the information on our website and consider taking the opportunity to be part of this event which is usually sold out a year in advance."

Elsewhere, 16th seed Anthony McGill was just one frame from victory with a 9-5 advantage over Ricky Walden, while last year's losing finalist Kyren Wilson was in a battle with namesake Gary Wilson - narrowly leading 7-6.

÷Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from April 17-May 3


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