John Higgins believes that this year’s Betfred World Championship could play host to the highest standard of tournament snooker ever seen.
Higgins will return to action for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic this weekend. He faces reigning Crucible king Judd Trump in a repeat of last year’s world final at the Coral Tour Championship on Sunday in Milton Keynes.
Scotland’s four-time World Champion Higgins has reached the last three Crucible finals, but was runner-up on each occasion. The 45-year-old will be hoping to go one better at this year’s World Championship.
The showpiece Sheffield event runs from 31st July to 16th August, having been postponed from taking place in its original April slot because of the coronavirus crisis. Government advice will dictate whether the event takes place behind closed doors or with a partial or full crowd.
Higgins thinks that a number of factors, including the global sporting shutdown, could lead to an unprecedented playing standard at this year’s World Championship.
“After the Tour Championship, we’ve got a full month to try and prepare. I’m sure everybody will be a lot more prepared coming to this World Championship. They will be ready for it and it could be great,” said 30-time ranking event winner Higgins.
He added: “This will probably surpass any tournament with the standard you will see. Everybody will be giving it everything for a month solid and put the tough hours in. Everybody will be hungry, there will be nobody tired or jaded. They will all be going in firing on all cylinders. I really think it could be the best tournament standard-wise. Even though we might not have the crowd, I think it could be the best.
“Everything involved adds up to that. Mentally people will be giving it extra, because the event could have been taken away from them. Everyone will be sharp as a tack. It could break all the records in terms of centuries. I definitely think there will be a maximum break. There are only a select few players that have made one at the Crucible before. I think the whole situation and the crowd gets on top of you normally at the Crucible. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t one or maybe even two this year.
“The World Championship takes care of itself. It always has done. Whatever has happened during the whole year, everyone gives it that bit extra. It is the biggest tournament and you just give everything for it. Who knows what it will be like if the crowd is empty. It will still be a special occasion for every one of the 32 players to walk down those steps. I’d guarantee if you were to do a poll, all 32 of them would have said it wasn’t going to happen this year. We will be lucky players to be there definitely.”
Before Higgins turns his attention to Sheffield, he must first concentrate on his Coral Tour Championship showdown with Trump. The event will be played behind closed doors with full Covid-19 testing and social distancing measures. Trump experienced the procedures at last week’s Matchroom.Live Championship League, an event which Higgins didn’t play in. Although the Scot admits it will be an alien environment to contest such a high profile match, he hopes that both players will be able to block out any differences and produce their best snooker.
Higgins said: “I watched a bit of the Championship League. To the viewer it doesn’t look any different at all, snooker is like that. It is great for the armchair viewer. Obviously being there and playing a good shot or the other guy making a good shot, it is totally quiet and that will be a little surreal. When you are in the zone and concentrating you don’t notice the crowd anyway, so I’m sure it will be fine.
“Judd is the man to beat now. Without a shadow of a doubt. He is World Champion and world number one and has broken the record for ranking events in a season with two left to go, so he could add to it. I know I have my work cut out, I’ll go down and give it my best shot. He is a great player now. He has learned to win the big events and has a great all round game. He can still play the big flamboyant shots, but he is a tough competitor to play against. You have to be on your game against him.”
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