John Higgins on admiring Ronnie O'Sullivan, disagreeing with Mark Williams and Crucible pain

November 13, 2022
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Phil Haigh ✍️  

Hong Kong Masters 2022 - Day 1
John Higgins has not enjoyed York over the years but is confident in his game at the UK Championship (Picture: Getty Images)

John Higgins shares greatness, longevity and legendary status with his fellow Class of 92 members, but he does not necessarily shares opinions with them on snooker.

Higgins heads to the UK Championship this weekend for the 28th consecutive season, hoping to lift the title for a fourth time, what would be a first since 2010.

Despite now being well into their forties, Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams are still among the favourites for the title, with the Rocket out in front of everybody with the bookmakers.

O’Sullivan and Higgins has a memorable conversation at the Northern Ireland Open recently about why we are not seeing more young players succeed on the baize in the modern game, with the world champion surprised and baffled that youngsters are not sending the old guard into retirement.

Higgins had just beaten 21-year-old Jackson Page 4-3 in Belfast in a superb contest, and the Scot feels it is obvious why young guns aren’t firing to victory more often, because the oldies are more golden than ever.

‘Jackson Page has played me over there and played really, really well,’ Higgins told ‘If he’d have done that 25 years ago against a top player like John Parrott, not taking anything away from him, I’m ranked five, but 30 years ago he plays like that against number five in the world, he’d have probably won that game.

‘You’ve got the top four just now [O’Sullivan, Robertson, Trump and Selby], then Mark Allen playing great, Mark Williams playing as well as ever, I’m still playing good stuff. It’s just so difficult, they’ve just got to bide their time, we can’t go on forever.

‘If I was coming through at 21, if I came up against a Ronnie O’Sullivan at 47 I maybe wouldn’t have been world champion. You’ve just got to put it like that. When I was coming through, it was only probably Hendry that could stop you, along with Ronnie and Mark. Possibly Ken, Ebdon, but there’s so many more players that are blocking the young guys now. It’s a shame but that’s the standard you’ve got to get to.’

While it is accepted that the overall standard of the tour now is better than it has ever been, some believe the very top of the sport is no better than it has been over the last 30 years.

Williams tweeted recently: ‘I don’t buy into or believe the standard at the top is better now than 15-20 years ago.

‘Me, Hendry, Higgins and Ronnie, think top four are better today?’

Higgins completely disagrees though, saying: ‘I just really don’t know where Mark’s coming from with that statement.

‘Mark’s just equalled Stephen Hendry’s century record at the Crucible [16]. He’s playing incredible stuff still.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Seven
Higgins and Williams met at the Crucible last year and were both in the semi-finals this year (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I think the standard the top boys are playing at now is incredible. Judd, Robertson, Selby, the performances they’re putting in, I think it blows away when I was in the top four 15-20 years ago. That’s my personal opinion.’

When put to Williams that he might be playing as well as ever, he said: ‘It’s good, different opinions. No, I don’t agree with that at all, no. I’m not, I can assure you of that. And O’Sullivan’s not either.’

What no one argues about is the brilliance of the current world number one, who is not only competing with players a generation or two below him at 46 years old, but still sitting atop the sport.

‘I think you can only stand back and admire Ronnie who’s still winning events against these guys,’ said John. ‘I’m playing great, Mark Williams is playing great and we’re nicking the odd tournament here and there. 

‘Ronnie’s standing up to Neil, Mark and Judd and in a way still dominating them and I think you can see, you can look at them, they’ve got good wins against Ronnie, but they look at Ronnie in awe. Which probably 99 per cent of the tour do. That gives him that little edge at the top level.’

Asked what separates the Rocket from the rest, the Wizard of Wishaw says it is extremely simple…

‘He’s just such a great snooker player, it’s not rocket science,’ said Higgins. ‘He’s got better cue ball control than anyone ever has in the game.

‘It gives him so many more opportunities to win frames. Which, add them up, to win frames, to win rounds, to win tournaments, it’s simple maths really. He’s got the best cue ball control and that’s why everyone’s striving to be like him, it’s not rocket science.’

Higgins was offered the chance to claim that excellent rocket science pun on O’Sullivan, but declined, saying: ‘I’m not that clever, but you can give me that one if you want.’

Higgins’ ultimate respect for his old rival O’Sullivan is what left him really hurt by his poor performance in their World Championship semi-final this year.

Ronnie went on to win the tournament and was playing well, but John was not at his best, and despite losing five finals last season, it was that semi-final which hurt most.

‘I was bitterly disappointed with how I performed in the semi-final,’ he said. ‘I just didn’t compete against Ronnie.

‘It was disappointing because during the season I’d felt I had the upper hand in some matches we played and I was looking forward to that one-table set-up against Ronnie, but I didn’t really turn up. Out of the whole season, that was maybe the most disappointing match, the way I performed in that semi.’

Betfred World Snooker Championship 2022 - Day 15
O’Sullivan beat Higgins 17-11 at the Crucible this year (Picture: Getty Images)

The 47-year-old’s quintet of defeats in finals last season were of varying levels of pain, climaxing with the worst of them all as he lost 10-9 to Neil Robertson from 9-4 ahead at the Tour Championship.

However, with 30 years of professional experience behind him, Higgins has no fears that he has been left with scars for finals to come.

‘I think I’d be fine,’ he said. ‘The Robertson one was difficult. I know as I’m getting older I get philosophical with my game, where it’s at and where I am in the grand scheme of things, but that was a tough one to take from 9-4 in front.

‘But the other ones, Mark Allen [Northern Ireland Open] I was two in front had a chance, didn’t really fall for me. Neil in the English I had a chance, but listen it’s difficult, it’s difficult to win things nowadays. You’ve got to put in really good performances and I’ve just fallen short.

‘When I look at the Tour Championship final, the majority of the final I played incredible, I thought it was really, really good. I don’t know if I had a bit of a hangover from that, because at the Worlds I didn’t produce anywhere near that quality again apart from maybe one session against Noppon, I just ran out of petrol, some mental petrol. Then maybe that’s lingered over to this season.

‘But I’m feeling positive because I’m hitting the ball really well, got a new cue this season as well, which I think has given me a bit more power, which I think I lacked a bit in the World Championship.’

Betfred World Snooker Championship 2022 - Day 13
Higgins reached an 11th World Championship semi-final this year (Picture: Getty Images)

The Wizard is feeling good about his game this season, with his new cue, but asked if he looks forward to trips to York for the UK Championship, the answer is clear: ‘No. Not at all. I’ve never had a great record at York at all. I always seem to lose 6-5 more often than not.

‘I love the city, like everyone does, it’s a great city at this time of year. But playing-wise, I am looking forward to it being a two-table format, because I’m normally knocked out by then.

‘I didn’t really like the four-table set-up for the UK Championship, I’ve never been a great lover of the UK since they put it down to best of 11s, but I think it’s going to be a proper tournaments this year, back to some semblance of what it was 10-15 years ago.

‘I don’t know if we just became blasé with it at the UK Championship, that’s the way it is now, with 128 players. But I don’t even think a lot of the lower-ranked players enjoyed playing in room two, it wasn’t even a great room to go in and practice. I was lucky enough to never be out there. Any player getting through here now will feel it’s a special tournaments, something back up there with the World Championship and Masters, which I think the UK should be.’

Snooker - 12Bet.Com UK Championships 2010 Final - John Higgins v Mark Williams
Higgins last won the UK Championship in 2010, beating Mark Williams 10-9 in the final (Picture: Getty Images)

Higgins likes going back to the tiered system for the UK Championship, but he is very open to change, modernisation and trying new things if it could spice up some of the less established events.

‘I’d be open minded to any changes that the powers that be might want to bring in,’ he said. ‘And it’s good that guys like Judd is airing his views because these are the guys who will be taking the sport on.

‘He mentioned something at the Matchroom events that might be a bit less strict, brings out the player’s personalities a little bit more. If someone like Judd is talking about it, you’ve got to listen to it. He’s been one of the top players for 10 years and will be for the next 10 years, so if  you don’t want to take on board some of the things he says then you’d be crazy not to.

‘For me, I don’t know what we can change. Maybe a shot clock element at a bigger tournament. The British Open has an FA Cup-style draw, These things are good and add something to the tour and it would be beneficial if another couple of things were brought onto the tour.’

As someone who has been on tour for three decades, Higgins has seen ups, downs and everything in the middle, so where does he see snooker right now?

‘It’s difficult because if you go to the Masters, the Champion of Champions, the World Championship, you’d be thinking snooker’s never been in a better place,’ he said. ‘But if you’d go to a couple of the other tournaments you’d be thinking, aye, this isn’t great again. It’s a funny one, it really is. I don’t know how to explain it.’

The Wizard is not too concerned with that though, just worried about getting the best out of himself at the UK Championship this week and continuing to scrap it out with the best in the world, which is what he does best.

‘I’m still loving competing up there,’ the four-time world champion said. ‘I’m just at that slight level below the very top, but I’m still proud of the way I’m competing at that level at this age, I didn’t think I would be.’

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