John Higgins marked a record 28th appearance in snooker’s biggest invitation event by beating China’s Zhao Xintong 6-2 in the first round of the Cazoo Masters. Zhao was making his debut in the event having leapt into the top 16 by winning the Cazoo UK Championship last month. The Chinese ace showed early promise with a century in the second frame, but could not maintain a foothold in the contest as his opponent pulled away. The match opened with fireworks from both players as Higgins made a break of 100 in the opening frame then Zhao responded with a 128, the new front-runner for the US$20,000 high break prize. Zhao scored just 22 points in the next three frames as Higgins surged 4-1 ahead with a top run of 104. Frame six went Zhao’s way but when he missed a risky long red in the seventh, trailing 24-8, he let Higgins in for a run of 30 which proved enough for 5-2. Two critical safety errors from Zhao in the eighth ended his hopes of a comeback, as Higgins punished him with breaks of 39 and 78 to seal the result. "He makes it look ridiculously easy" John Higgins is a fan of Zhao Xintong. However, the 31-time ranking event winner outplayed the UK Champion today in round one of the @CazooUK Masters #CazooMasters pic.twitter.com/J3OVHJauwQ — World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) January 10, 2022 “Zhao is such a special talent, he makes it look ridiculously easy, the way he strokes the ball in,” Higgins said. “I was just trying to make it difficult for him. He missed a couple that he usually wouldn’t miss and that gave me confidence, and I played pretty well. The table played well and it’s the best arena that anyone can play in.” With the win, Higgins books his place in the quarter-finals for the 15th time and faces an intriguing clash with fellow veteran Mark Williams later this week. Williams has been this season’s most consistent player so far, reaching four finals but losing all four, and he will be determined to capture his first silverware of the campaign. Defending Cazoo Masters champion Yan Bingtao ‘happy’ despite first-round exit Zhao admitted he felt the pressure going into the match, but said Higgins simply outplayed him. “John played really well, his safety and long potting was perfect and he deserved to win. When I made the 128 in frame two that gave me hope, but he controlled the game,” he said. “I felt a bit of pressure, I was trying to focus on every ball, but John played too well. It’s a great venue, I hope I will be back here next year.” On Sunday night, defending champion Yan Bingtao suffered a first-round exit as two-times winner Williams came from behind to win 6-4. Despite playing some of his best snooker this season, the 21-year-old Chinese star was unable to fend off Williams, who roared over the winning line by winning five of the last six frames.