John Higgins believes he is at a crisis career cross-roads – with fears over his ability at 46 to win close major finals.
The snooker legend admits that his 9-8 defeat to Neil Robertson at the English Open will hurt for a long time, and his demons can only be exorcised with another title.
It was a 21st ranking title for Australian Robertson, 39, who celebrated with new wife Mille and son Alexander in the Marshall Arena.
But four-time world champion Higgins suffered the cruel agony in Milton Keynes for the second successive final, losing a deciding-frame thriller after leading 8-6.
The same thing happened against Mark Allen in the Northern Ireland Open final in Belfast last month, prompting Higgins to suggest he could no longer mix it with the top players.
Higgins said: “That’s about as tough a loss as they come. Maybe my time at the top, top level getting over the line is over with the chance I had in the final frame.
“I’m not sure if it will come good, because if I am in that position again then the way I am feeling now I will be thinking I won’t close it out.
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“I have bounced back from big defeats before but you get older, maybe the system for handling pressure is not there for me now.
“Of course what had happened in Belfast came into my mind from 8-6. I was still trying to stay positive, and I had two opportunities in the last frame. It doesn’t matter what you did all week, that is the moment you have to do it.
“And until I get over the line in a similar position in another tournament then I have am going to have these demons in my head.
Higgins added that the top players are the ones who “steamroller over the line,” and admitted the finale would hurt for a while.
“And only a big win and getting over the line in a similar position in a final will help – if I can get in that position again.”
However there was backing for Higgins from Robertson.
He said: “John is still an incredible player. Look at how he demolished Ronnie in the final of the Players Championship this year. But losing close ones might even be connected to him losing so much weight.
“Your nerves might react differently in your body under pressure, maybe he is being too hard on himself. I expect him to win again.”
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