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John Higgins reflects on 'magical' Crucible memories ahead of World Championships

Daily Record logoDaily Record 15/04/2021 Euan Robertson

John Higgins admits he still gets butterflies at the ‘magical’ Crucible Theatre ahead of his 28th consecutive visit.

The World Championships are the pinnacle of the snooker calendar and the wizard of Wishaw has won the prestigious event four times in his career.

The 45 year-old is an experienced campaigner and one of the favourites to win this year but he’s always inspired by the famous Sheffield venue.

“You always get the butterflies around about this time of the year when the tournament is on the horizon,” Higgins said.

“It’s just one of those special events and I’ve played there 27 years on the spin. It’s obviously a bit weird with covid, as it was last year, and we don’t know if there will be any fans this year.

“It’s the best place that you could ever wish to play snooker in. It’s got so much history to it and it’s really magical.”

“I’ve played in the tournament every single year since my first time and I’ve been through every sort of emotion you can as a snooker player at the Crucible.

“I’ve been through heartache, the biggest highs when I won it and it’s just a really special place."

Higgins first experience of the Crucible was as a prodigiously talented 18 year-old back in 1994.

Higgins in action at the famous venue in Sheffield © Getty Images Higgins in action at the famous venue in Sheffield

He entered the competition in red-hot form but suffered a disappointing defeat to fellow Scot Alan McManus, who retired this week, in the first round.

“It was bittersweet really,” Higgins admitted. “The first time that I got to the Crucible, I’d just won the British Open title and I was provisionally number two in the world.

“I was considered second favourite behind Stephen Hendry and I was drawn to play Alan McManus in the first round.

“I’m really friendly with Alan and we grew up playing together. I just treated it like any tournament, I went down the night before and I didn’t really go into the arena to find my bearings.

a man standing in front of a stage: Higgins walks out at the Crucible ahead of the Final in 2019 © Getty Images Higgins walks out at the Crucible ahead of the Final in 2019

“I just thought that I’d be fine but I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I was just sitting there, Alan was beating me pretty easily, and it was surreal.

The magnitude and pressurised environment of the World Championships startled a resentful Higgins who criticised the surroundings.

He said: “You get introduced into the big auditorium and they put the screen down in the middle of the tables. I just felt so claustrophobic that I couldn’t breath and the crowd was right on top of you so you could hear tutting.

“It was a crazy experience and I think that Alan beat me 10-3. I came out after it and slated the event but obviously I was just young and stupid.

John Higgins holding a sign: A young John Higgins at the World Championship's in 1999 © Daily Record A young John Higgins at the World Championship's in 1999

“I was saying I don’t know why people think the Crucible is this great area and everything else but obviously it was just a bit of sour grapes.

“It was only really when you go back the following year that you grow to realise how special a place it is.”


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Snooker, like darts, is often ridiculed for not being the most physically exerting sport but it requires a high level of mental fortitude which is almost unrivalled amongst other sports, as Higgins attests.

“It must be one of the most mentally challenging sports there is, without a doubt. I’m a massive sports fan but in snooker, you don’t even need to do something wrong and you can lose.

John Higgins wearing a suit and tie: Higgins insists snooker is the most mentally challenging sport © Getty Images Higgins insists snooker is the most mentally challenging sport

“The other guy can fluke a ball and then go on to clear the table. The next frame he could pot a long ball or you could get a kick, it’s just so mentally challenging,” Higgins added.

After claiming a famous 10-3 over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Players Championship final in February, Higgins labelled it as the best week of snooker he’d played in his life.

O’Sullivan, who Higgins also beat in a remarkable Masters semi-final, compared Higgins’ performance to Tiger Woods’ US Open win at Pebble Beach where he won by a record-breaking 15 strokes.

Despite losing to Yan Bingato in an iconic Masters final, Higgins has been impressed by his improved form.

a man standing on a stage: Bingtao won the Masters at the start of the year © Handout Bingtao won the Masters at the start of the year

He said: “From the turn of the year, I’ve been working on little things and it’s paying off. I’m not one to tinker about too much with my action or technique but I’ve been trying to get my tip closer to the cue ball.

“It’s given me more consistency and I’ll keep doing it.”

“It was disappointing to lose to Bingtao in the Masters final because I felt like I was in control.

“I just faltered near the end and he just played brilliantly. He’s a great young player for his age but I managed to carry my form into that Players’ Championship where I was in great form.

Higgins is determined to make a strong start in the World Championships as he eyes his first title in a decade.

John Higgins standing in front of a counter: Higgins holds the World Championship trophy in 2010 © Daily Record Higgins holds the World Championship trophy in 2010

The pinnacle event of the snooker calendar gets underway on Saturday and the current world number five has been victorious at the Crucible on four occasions in 1998, 2001, 2007 and 2011.

Higgins has also reached three finals at the World Championships in the last four years but suffered defeats on each occasion; 18-5 to Mark Selby in 2017, 18-16 to Williams in 2019 and 18-9 to Judd Trump in 2019.

After his success at the Players’ Championship, though, Higgins knows he has a strong chance to claim his fifth title at the Crucible - if he can make a strong start.

“It’s so important to start off well in this event," Higgins said. "In the Tour Championship, although I played in the quarter-finals, it was technically the first round so it’s difficult to gauge how you are going to play.

John Higgins, Judd Trump posing for the camera: Higgins lost out to Judd Trump in the 2019 final © Getty Images Higgins lost out to Judd Trump in the 2019 final

“The first round is always absolutely massive at the Crucible. If you can get through the first round then you feel as though you can feel yourself into the tournament.

“You might gain confidence and go on to do well. I should be approaching this year with more confidence than in previous years because I’ve got a win under my belt.

“I’ve been playing pretty consistently over the past three or four months so I’m going there in good spirits.

“But you can go there in good spirits then fall flat on your face and the opposite applies too.”

As he heads down to Sheffield for the 28th year in a row, Higgins preparation will be aided by familiar surroundings.

Higgins shuns the city centre locations and crazy fans to enjoy a relaxing time in an apartment supplied by a good friend.

John Higgins will be in familiar surroundings in Sheffield this year © Getty Images John Higgins will be in familiar surroundings in Sheffield this year

He revealed: “There’s a really nice lady called Kate who lives in Sheffield that I got in touch with about ten years ago.

“She’s got apartments that she lets out and I’ve been staying in different places throughout Sheffield that are on the market.

“I find during the tournament it’s better to stay away from hotels because it can be pretty manic.

“There are usually loads of fans about and it’s good to just take yourself away from everything - you can do your own cooking and relax.”

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