Genius still at work

Genius still at work

When the Indian Open World Ranking Snooker Tournament was announced, the very first cueist that most fans in the country wanted to witness was the legendary Ronnie O’Sullivan. The moment it was confirmed the reigning world champion would not be making his trip to New Delhi, the next on the wish list was John Higgins.

Such is the aura of the Scot. A four-time world champion and winner of the 25 rankings titles, the Wizard of Wishaw has cast a binding spell on fans across the world with his brilliant break-building class and tactical nous. A genius at the table who can be unstoppable when on song, Higgins’ accomplishments are nothing short of legendary.

In his maiden visit to the country, the 38-year-old speaks about his career, his never-ending hunger for the game and professional snooker making a long-delayed trip to emerging markets. Excerpts:

You won your first world title in 1998 but the next one came nine years later. Why such a huge gap?

I wouldn’t call it a dip in form. The world championship is such a difficult title to win and it took a long time accomplish the feat again. I should have won the Worlds again somewhere in between. It’s not like I was playing badly because I was winning other tournaments. The world championship is the mother of all the events and all the players raise their game.

After you won your fourth title in 2011, you said you are gunning for you seventh...
I think I said it in a moment of high. It’s very difficult to win a world championship and the task become very difficult as you grow older. A lot of younger players are coming through brilliantly. Ronnie O’Sullivan has been playing brilliantly in the last couple of years to win the world title and he’ll be the man to beat for the foreseeable future.

Four world titles and 25 ranking crowns. What else are you going for?

I’ve always tried to look forward as I’ve never look behind. Every tournament I enter I feel I can win them. I’ve not had a great year and a lot of people are thinking that Higgins is beginning to fall. I like proving people wrong. I want to win as many titles as I can.
What do you think of the talent pool in Asia?

You’ve got Pankaj (Advani) and Aditya (Mehta) who have been great ambassadors of the sport. They’ve done really well on the Tour and everybody is proud of them. The Chinese obviously get a lot of exposure but you’ll have very good players in Pankaj and Aditya. Pankaj has made a brilliant transition from billiards to snooker in quick time. I’m sure these two are going to do wonderful things

China is becoming a force to reckon with in snooker...

I think the sport needs to grow beyond England. It’ll be great if we can grow in India as well. There are a lot of countries who are very excited about snooker. It’s real exciting times for snooker. Twenty years ago snooker was very limited but now its horizons are expanding. Then snooker was considered a very old sport but now a lot of youngsters are showing interest in it.

Don’t you think snooker should be going to newer countries than sticking predominantly around Europe and China?

It’s difficult. They are trying to take it back to Australia and are also trying to stage an event in Brazil. WPBSA chairman James Ferguson is trying to travel to plenty of countries and try and break into newer markets but he is facing a tough challenge. But we are lucky to have people like James and (Barry) Hearn (World Snooker chairman) who are doing everything they can to promote and develop snooker.

What do you think of the new ranking system based on prize money rather than points?
I personally think the points system is the fairest. But Barry wants to change it to prize money system which could impact some of the top players, like Ronnie who doesn’t compete in that many nowadays. In the points system, players who do well go up and players who don’t do well go down. I don’t see a reason for change but it’s there upon you.

Having being around for so long, who do you think has brought out the best in you?
There are quite a few top players who push you hard. Ronnie and Stephen Hendry are not easy players to beat. New players like Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Judd Trump and Ding Junhui are doing really well and keeping the seasoned pros on their toes. It’s not coincidence that these players are the top-4 in the world and you can’t argue with their rankings.

Your thoughts on Chinese prodigy Ding Junhui...

I’ve always had great respect for him and it’s a matter of time before he wins a world championship. He’s got a lot of pressure on him but I think he is matured a lot over the last couple of years and is capable of handling it. He has sharpened his skills and he is definitely one of the best players in the world.

Which would you pick as the best moment in your stellar career?

I think it would be 1998 world championships when I beat Ken Doherty in the final.  The first world title is something you always dream of doing. That would be the pinnacle of your career. All the world titles won are special, but the first one is always more special.
How long do we see Higgins wield the cue?

Snooker is all I know. I love playing and competing. I’ll continue playing as long as my eyes can see. It is difficult to say because it depends on how players keep themselves fit and I’m not one of them. Steve Davis (he’s 56 years old) always kept himself fit and is still competing. He’s very motivating. One should compete as long as you feel good about the game. I don’t think there is anything which will stop you from competing. But as you grow older it is more difficult to cope with pressure because when you are younger you don’t think of anything. As you grow older, even when you are in an airplane you feel nervous.

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