Masters Snooker Final Tips: Higgins to edge battle of youth v experience

Snooker veteran John Higgins
John Higgins has been in superb form at the Masters this week

Today's Masters final epitomises the youth versus experience narrative, with 20-year-old Yan Bingtao taking on 45-year-old John Higgins. Gary Moss previews the clash...

"But with his biggest pay day in snooker already secured and the expectation and pressure all on Higgins, he can without doubt enjoy the occasion."

If ever there was a match which personified youth versus experience - today's Masters final is it.

Yan Bingtao - a 20-year-old Chinese prodigy - steps forward to play in his first ever major snooker final against the might and experience of John Higgins aged 45 and renowned as one of the game's all-time greats.

To put the age and experience gap into some kind of context, when Yan was born in 2000, Higgins had already been on the professional circuit for eight years, had already picked up the first of his four world titles and was already a Masters champion too.

Higgins has gone on to win nine of the sport's Triple Crown major events and today will be searching for his 10th in his 18th final while Yan prepares to tread new ground and enjoy his maiden major final.

Despite all this, reputation counts for very little once they're out there on the table and in fact there have been some comparisons drawn between the players this week in terms of playing style.

Youthful Yan throws himself on snooker's big stage

Bingtao is being hailed as a bit of a throwback. In an age where there's a swarm of young Chinese players emerging through the circuit with an attacking brand of snooker and possessing a certain flair, Yan is more measured, blessed with a fantastic temperament and builds his game around solid shot selection and being very good in all departments rather than disproportionately excelling in one.

He's proved this week to have an abundance of bottle too. This is his first ever appearance at the Masters - a tournament reserved as an invitational event for the world's top 16 players in the rankings - and albeit no with no crowd this year he has been like a man of steel under pressure.

He has won all of his matches 6-5 and come through the final-frame deciders with a maturity beyond his years against recent UK champion Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire and defending Masters champion Stuart Bingham.

Rolling back the years

While the narrative around Yan's great run is so warming and intriguing as he bids to win this prestigious event on debut just like Mark Selby did in 2008, Higgins has a story to tell himself this week.

He produced some of the best snooker we have seen from him in years to beat Ronnie O'Sullivan 6-3 in the quarter-finals and surrounded that with wins against 2018 champion Mark Allen and Dave Gilbert late last night.

This is Higgins' first Masters final since he won the event for a second time back in 2006 which fittingly was the last time the event was held in the iconic Wembley Conference Centre.

The event has not been the happiest of hunting ground for Higgins over the past decade but today he is the 1/2 favourite (13/8 Bingtao) to land his third Masters title and prove he's still got game on the very biggest stage.

There are shades of 2007 about today's final when the flagbearer of Chinese snooker Ding Junhui reached the final aged 19 at the start of his illustrious snooker journey. He lost 10-3 that day to O'Sullivan and finished the final in tears after being dominated on the table.

Yan will of course be dreaming of lifting the trophy today - and will believe he can do, make no mistake. His first task though will be to stay in touch with Higgins and remain in the match in the first session to avoid a similar baptism of fire. But with his biggest pay day in snooker already secured and the expectation and pressure all on Higgins, he can without doubt enjoy the occasion.

He has proved he can cope when the pressure when it builds so stay close and he could just flourish.

Higgins though will be aware of the clamour around Yan as a new face at this stage of one of the big snooker occasions on the calendar and will be looking to stamp his authority early and show his experience does count for a lot.

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