Stephen Hendry swept to the brink of a stunning victory over John Higgins in the World Championship as the reigning champion's defence of his Crucible title looked to have run its course.

On a big day for Scotland in Sheffield, seven-time world champion Hendry won seven out of eight frames this evening to storm 12-4 ahead of four-time winner Higgins in their long-awaited first Crucible meeting.

Higgins' game, which took him to glory in the final against Judd Trump last May, looked to have completely deserted him in the second-round contest.

Higgins warned he was playing poorly as the tournament approached, but it was hard to believe the Crucible environment would not bring the best out of the 36-year-old from Wishaw.

And yet Higgins looked hopelessly rusty in the second-round contest, missing most remotely difficult balls and some utterly routine pots too. The same had applied in the first round when he edged past Liang Wenbo in a deciding frame.

Hendry, 43, would certainly not have expected to be gifted so many openings, and to win his frames tonight he often needed several.

He finished off in style though with a polished break of 83, and needs just one more frame tomorrow afternoon to reach the quarter-finals.

As Australia's 2010 world champion Neil Robertson became the first player to reach the quarter-finals by beating Tamworth's David Gilbert 13-9 on the other table, Hendry plunged one large boot in the last-eight line-up.

Hendry was rarely at his vintage 1990s best tonight but nor did he need to be.

He had six scoring visits as he pulled 6-3 ahead, a 51 break helped him make it 7-3, and after Higgins scraped the 11th frame by doubling in the pink and rolling in the black, the procession continued.

A run of 48 guided Hendry to 8-4, and the frames continued to be frittered away when Higgins missed repeatedly and increasingly waywardly.

It was largely Hendry's own work that brought him the final two frames of the night, as runs of 66 and the closing 83 left Higgins needing to win all nine tomorrow, but surely he is going home.

While Hendry made his Crucible debut as long ago as 1986, aged 17, Higgins' first appearance came in 1995. The pair have been ever present since, yet bafflingly have always avoided each other.

It was Higgins' stated desire that he should play Hendry this year, even before the draw created the prospect of a second-round encounter. He might be careful what he wishes for in future.

Hendry, down at 23rd in the world rankings, had to qualify to make the main draw this year but his maximum break against Stuart Bingham in the first round confirmed the Auchterarder player as a man in form.

He ploughed in breaks of 81, 69, 93, 123 and 67 to seize a 5-3 lead in the opening session, and despite having it made easy for him tonight by Higgins, an eighth world title - and first since 1999 - is looking increasingly attainable.