John Higgins castigated himself for a ‘weak performance’ as he crashed out of the Masters quarter-finals, beaten 6-3 by Ali Carter.
In an attritional match, Carter dug in repeatedly to grind out his first five, before loosening up to seal it with a flowing break at the death.
And Higgins - a two-time champion in the competition and one of the favourites at Alexandra Palace this year - was thoroughly deflated after being beaten by outsider Carter, who was only called up to the tournament after Ronnie O’Sullivan’s withdrawal.
“I tried to blag it for a couple of frames, going quick, but it was a poor game. It wasn’t enjoyable at all,” said Higgins.
“I probably dragged Ali down. He was playing good safety, keeping me tight. My safety was all over the place. It was similar to my game against (Yao) Bingtao at the UK in the quarters - non-existent.
“I felt okay but played a weak shot in the yellow to try and bounce off for the green. It was a weak shot and then I didn’t get a good contact on the green, but I shouldn’t have been anywhere near hitting it as thin as I should have been. It was just a weak performance, simple as that.”
Despite all the hype around Higgins, it was Carter who wrapped up the first two frames as the pair set the tone for a gritty affair.
The Wizard of Wishaw eventually got on the board in the third thanks in part to a break of 54, as he looked to push on.
And he took a 46-point lead in the fourth, but could not wrap things up as a mistake on the brown allowed Carter to open up a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval.
Carter ground out an epic fifth after the break, eventually keeping Higgins in his seat after a 37-minute frame.
Higgins sparked next up, making a scintillating break of 140 to re-ignite his chances, following that up with a 73 in the next to get back to within one.
There was controversy in the eighth when Carter claimed to have hit a yellow it appeared he had missed, and the called foul was overturned.
Carter then cleared the crucial colours and settled a 47-minute frame to go within one of victory.
And the 40-year-old was first into the balls in the ninth, and made no mistake as he set up a Saturday semi-final against Shaun Murphy.
Watch the London Masters LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport Player with analysis from Ronnie O'Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.