Higgins works hard for win

John Higgins began his bid for a fourth UK Championship title by grinding out a first-round win over Michael Holt.

The Scot, champion in 1998, 2000 and 2010, came through his opening test on day one of the tournament at York's Barbican Centre, stepping up his performance following a mid-match scare which left his mind "scrambled".

The 37-year-old Scot, who stunned Judd Trump with a terrific comeback in the final to win the Shanghai Masters title in September, has looked to be approaching his very best form after going through a slump last season.

And while he scaled no great heights against 34-year-old Nottinghamshire potter Holt, there were enough indications that his game is in healthy order.

Higgins, who made an early break of 116, split the opening six frames with Holt and was behind midway through frame seven. But he then seized on an opening to inch ahead in the match, and it proved the turning point as he pulled away to clinch a 6-3 victory.

"I'm delighted to win. I was on edge the whole game," said Higgins, who will play Mark Davis or Cao Yupeng next.

"Being the first match on, sometimes that's not for the best. The table was playing really slow, the cushions were the slowest I think I've ever played on and it was difficult to get used to the conditions."

The world number three added: "It was looking dodgy in the seventh frame when Michael could have cleared up and won that frame to make it 4-3.

"My head was getting scrambled, I was getting frustrated with myself and if it had gone 4-3 he would have probably gone on to win."

Holt, the world number 29, said: "I love being at these tournaments and really want to win. But I've been at this stage of my career for about 10 years. I know I can beat anyone. It's really frustrating. I'm always just that far away from winning."

Australian Open champion Barry Hawkins came through a difficult assignment against China's Liang Wenbo, winning 6-4.

The match looked to have tipped in Liang's favour when he came from 3-1 behind to lead 4-3, a run of three frames sparked by a rapid 71.

By that stage both men had a century break to their name, a 101 for Kent cueman Hawkins and a 102 from China's world number 42 Liang.

Liang rifled in a long red to set up an outstanding chance in frame eight.

Yet the 25-year-old former Shanghai Masters runner-up mustered only a modest break and Hawkins made him pay, levelling the match before edging 5-4 in front of his fellow left-hander and sealing victory with a decisive run of 38 in the next frame.

Hawkins, 33, said: "I feel like I played well the whole match. I've got more confidence at the moment maybe after winning the tournament in Australia, so I was able to handle the pressure. That played a massive part in the end.

"Maybe I'm a different player after winning a tournament and I feel like I maybe belong here now."