loading...

05 August 2020 14:40

Welsh Open Ronnie O'Sullivan Snooker

World Snooker Championship: Kurt Maflin relishing John Higgins clash in unlikely title bid

Maflin missed out on a magical Crucible 147 but hopes his win over David Gilbert can inspire the next generation of Norwegian talent Kurt Maflin hopes his shock World Championship triumph will have Norwegian children swapping ski slopes for snooker cues, writes Will Jennings. Maflin, who lives in Oslo but was born in Southwark, stunned world No.12 David Gilbert at the Crucible as he won a 10-8 thriller to book his place in the second round against John Higgins. Snooker is far from a mainstream sport in Scandinavia and world No.43 Maflin hopes his first round win can make it more visible for the younger generation. When asked if his win would help increase the sport's profile, the 36-year-old said: "I hope so. "I'm hoping this kind of thing can help - Norway has every tournament on Eurosport's out there, so hopefully some of the younger kids can start not just going on skis, but getting their cues out too!

"I've got a lot of engagement in Twitter messages, normal messages and they love it in Norway and they support me a lot, so I really appreciate that, so thank you. "You're not really going to get much tougher than John - he's definitely in the top three or four players of all-time, so it's just going to be really enjoyable to play him. "I hope I get off to a good start and let him know that I've come to play - I'd say the pressure's pretty much off. "I feel like if I play my game then I can beat anyone on my day, so there's no pressure." Maflin's appearance in Sheffield marked his first since 2015, where he lost a similarly pulsating battle 10-9 against current three-time world champion Mark Selby. And he says memories of that heartbreaking decider came flooding back at 9-8 up against Gilbert, with his seeded opponent at one stage looking well-poised to level the scores and tee up a late night finish.

The match proved a topsy-turvy contest throughout as both players showed all their break-building prowess, with the Norwegian star racking up four ton-plus visits to leave Gilbert in the chair. And one of those was a brilliant 105 that saw him pot 14 reds and 13 blacks, giving him a shot at Crucible nirvana with a potential maximum break of 147. An unfortunate kiss on the yellow after a brilliantly-potted red dashed his hopes, however, prompting a humorous reaction from Maflin that saw him show a rude gesture towards the cue ball. The incident went viral on social media and despite getting a reprimand from the referee, Maflin says no harm was intended from his jovial jibe. "I've never done anything like that before - I just felt like I worked really hard to get into that position, and the pot was hard enough on 104," he added.

Kurt Maflin can't wait to take on one of the game's greats on the biggest stage (Picture: Getty Images) Kurt Maflin is into round two of the World Snooker Championship for the first time ever and he believes there is no reason he cannot lift the trophy in Sheffield as he prepares to take on John Higgins in the last 16. The 36-year-old came through a brilliant battle with Dave Gilbert in round one, making four centuries on the way to victory over last year's semi-finalist. The world number 43 has long been seen as someone who could challenge closer to the top of the sport then his highest ever ranking of 31 suggests. Having stormed through the last round of qualifying to reach the Crucible – beating Matt Selt 10-1 – and now seeing off Gilbert, he has the chance to prove that still further against the four-time world champion. The naturalised Norwegian from south London not only believes he can beat the Wizard of Wishaw, but feels he can become world champion on 16 August.

'I sort of started believing I could do it when I got through that last qualifying game and I got through that game pretty comfortably,' Maflin told Eurosport podcast The Break. 'I feel like I've been getting better and better recently, so I felt good and comfortable going into that game. 'I've done the rounds in practice, played Neil Robertson, Kyren [Wilson]. [Stuart] Bingham, so the preparation going into the Worlds this year is probably the best it has ever been and I probably wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for this quarantine situation. The practice held me in good stead against Dave, I just felt comfortable all the way through and I think that's what practice does to you. A lot of the top guys know me well and what I'm capable of, hopefully now, and over the next few years, it will be my time to shine.' Maflin lives in Oslo with his wife and son, where it is difficult to get that kind of match sharpness against local players. 'Being in Norway has definitely held me back on the tour,' Maflin told Metro.co.uk in May. 'I do try and practice as hard as I can, but getting motivated is hard when you've got absolutely nobody to practice with. But everything else, living in Norway is beautiful, my wife, my son, you can't change those things, it's one against 10 positive things.' Maflin is back into the world's top 32 thanks to his run to the World Championship last 16 (Picture: Getty Images) Maflin has only played Higgins once before, coming from 0-3 behind to beat the Scot 5-3 at this year's China Championship, so he is understandably confident, although taking on Higgins over a best of 25 at the Crucible is a different task entirely. 'I'm really looking forward to that game,' Kurt continued. It'll be a great experience to play him at the World Championships. 'I'm really looking forward to that game and if I can produce some of what I was producing yesterday [Sunday] we can have a really good game.' Maflin vs Higgins begins at 1pm on Wednesday and continues over the morning and evening sessions on Thursday, with the winner going on to play either Anthony McGill or Jamie Clarke in the quarter-finals. MORE: Mark Selby stumbles past Jordan Brown into World Snooker Championship round two MORE: Jamie Clarke downs five-century Mark Allen in classic Crucible upset For more stories like this, check our sport page. Gilbert was gutted after he failed to replicate his memorable run to the Crucible semi-finals David Gilbert fumed after a rusty performance saw him crash out of the World Championship at the first hurdle, writes Will Jennings. The world No.12 succumbed to a 10-8 defeat against qualifier Kurt Maflinat the Crucible as a failure to take his chances dashed his hopes of replicating last year's heroics. The Derby-born, Tamworth-based potter embarked on a thrilling run to the semi-finals in Sheffield but was stopped in his tracks by world No.34 Maflin this year, who hit four century breaks to blow one of the most popular men on the circuit away. "To not go 9-9 I'm absolutely fuming with myself," Gilbert, 39, said. "I've put a lot of effort into this and it's probably the best-prepared I've ever come into a tournament. "But being so ring-rusty and not playing a game for five months has caught up with me there at the end. "I was too busy thinking it 'it's 9-9, get ready for the decider' and I just missed an absolute sitter - you can't do that and it was just a lack of matchplay. "I didn't really play all that good and yesterday I really struggled - I hated it in there and it was a bit weird to begin with, as it was a bit like playing in a club but in a fantastic arena. "I'm pretty disappointed, but Kurt played fantastically." Gilbert missed a simple red that would have given him a golden opportunity to restore parity and tee up a decider, allowing Maflin to capitalise and book himself a place in the last 16. But it was a thrilling encounter under the Sheffield lights, as the two players shared six centuries between them with Gilbert's efforts of 131 and 102 make Maflin fight hard. Norwegian player Maflin struck visits of 124, 101, 102 and 105 to make amends for his 2015 first round defeat against Mark Selby and tee up a clash with four-time world champion John Higgins. It's back to the drawing board for Gilbert and the 2019 English Open finalist reckons Maflin must control his aggression if he is to continue his Crucible run. "He did get the hump in that match, but it seems to inspire him and he controlled his aggression, so it was good signs from him," he added. "I've just got to say well played Kurt - he played brilliantly, thoroughly deserved to win, and I hope he can continue that in his next game. "He's going to have to play well - he's got John next and John's a far better tactician than me, and he'll have to keep on scoring like that under these conditions and keep that level of focus." Watch the World Championship from 31st July -16th August with analysis from Jimmy White. I will never forget my first visit to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, sitting in the press row a few feet from the likes of Peter Ebdon and Ali Carter. The World Championship is on again and, while this upsets the circadian rhythms of sport given that this should really be a spring event, it is, for me at least, the most perfect distraction from daily reports of second waves, local lockdowns and Donald Trump interviews — particularly those