It’s been a long time since John Higgins lifted the British Open trophy in 2004, but after a 17-year hiatus, the matchroom.live British Open is finally back and play is underway at the Morningside Arena in Leicester. You can tune into the action from anywhere in the world, with coverage in the UK starting at 12:45pm on ITV4.
With a random draw in operation and a quickfire format there are sure to be shocks, stunning snooker and headlines throughout the week. In the run up to the event we spoke to some of the players involved in the marquee ties of round one, here is what they had to say…
World Champion Selby is looking forward to facing Shaun Murphy in a repeat of their Crucible final from earlier this year. Leicester’s Selby will enjoy a strong support on Tuesday evening. However, Murphy’s attacking style and crowd interaction did sway some of the Sheffield fans in his favour in May. There were some boos as Selby walked out prior to the last session and he admits that it did fire him up to clinch the title.
“It was amazing. We’ve had 12 to 15 months playing in front of nobody. All of a sudden, throughout the tournament we were getting more in and to get to the final and play in front of a full house was incredible. With the atmosphere the way it was, Shaun had quite a lot of support in. I think there was a lot of Irish fans in there. At one stage before the night session I got booed, but if anything that inspired me even more. Whether they were drunk or just supporting Shaun I don’t know, but that inspired me,” said 38-year-old Selby.
“I see it as more of a challenge. It switches on your focus even more than normal. Every time I play Ronnie O’Sullivan it is the same sort of occasion. It will always be a full crowd and the majority will be on his side because of who he is and the way he plays. I always enjoy those occasions and I seem to play well. I think a lot of that is down to the occasion.
“It will be great at the British Open. Since I’ve been a professional, I’ve never known a main ranking event to be in Leicester like this, apart from the Championship League. For it to be my first tournament as World Champion, it will be a great feeling to walk out and play. Hopefully there will be a big crowd.”
In the latest edition of his monthly blog, Murphy admitted that facing Selby in a best of five format will be slightly less arduous than their best of 35 marathon in the World Championship final. He’s hoping that a recent trip to Antrim will have sharpened him up ahead of the blockbuster showdown in Leicester.
Murphy said: “The British Open is coming up and I am looking forward to that. The draw has thrown up one extreme to the other for me. I’ve just faced Mark Selby in the longest match on the tour, the World Championship final, now I am going to play against him in a best of five. I certainly fancy my chances of getting to three before him more than getting to 18! I can assure you that beating Mark Selby in a race to 18 is very very hard. I’m looking forward to it as I’ve been putting in some good sessions on the practice table.
“I recently travelled up to Antrim to play against Mark Allen, Jordan Brown and Fergal O’Brien. I have to admit I got absolutely annihilated by all three of them! I am hoping that has sharpened me up a bit, but it is a sign of how well they are playing. Jordan played like he did in the Welsh Open, Mark played like he does all of the time, he is practically unbeatable in Antrim, and Fergal was on great form. It’s been a long break and it is easy to lose sharpness. After success at the Championship League and a tough trip to Antrim, I’m hoping I’ve got that back now.”
Higgins, the last player to win the British Open, opens up his campaign with an intriguing clash against Alexander Ursenbacher. In the build up to this season, the Scot turned to spin classes in order to build up his fitness and lose weight. His target was to require his waistcoats to be altered and that is a feat he has now achieved.
“I’m still trying to keep up with the fitness and still trying to be a bit healthier. I was taken aback at the World Championship, so it was just a case of trying to eat a bit better over the last couple of months, trying to lose a bit of weight, take it into the new season and see if it does me any good. Who knows what it will do, but I felt a wee bit better on the table during the Championship League. Within myself I feel better and that is the thing I can take the positives from,” said 46-year-old Higgins.
“I tried my waistcoats on and they were pretty big on me, I’m in the process of getting them altered. It’s amazing because when I think about it, they were actually a wee bit tight at the Crucible. Over the years I’ve got steadily bigger and bigger. I didn’t really notice it until I lost a bit of weight and I realised I must have been bigger than I thought. Hopefully I can keep this up until the end of my career now.
“I didn’t want to go back into the new season feeling the same way. I’ve thought a lot about losing weight over the years and I haven’t followed through and done it. Something clicked and told me that I really had to do something about it. If you put your mind to it then you can. I think being a sportsperson and needing to be single minded to achieve in sport helps with that. It has never been a massive thing for me, but maybe it should have been.”
Swiss number one Ursenbacher has struggled in recent meetings with Higgins, trailing the head-to-head 4-0. However, they haven’t faced each other for two years and Ursenbacher believes he has improved the tactical areas of his game, having worked on his safety play over the last 12 months.
Ursenbacher said: “John can have a bad day and still make two centuries and a couple of 50 breaks. With someone like Ronnie it is just a bit different, if he isn’t up for it then he won’t play very well. John is just not going to give up or show any weakness. That’s why I am really looking forward to playing him. In matches against people like John or Mark Selby you learn so much.
“I am an attacking player, but in the last six to 12 months, I’ve learned a bit about the tactical side of the game. Before, I didn’t really look at things properly. Now I have been working on my safety game it has made me realise how important it is. I’ve actually really enjoyed it. John is good at every single department in snooker. For me, looking at this side of the game, has made me see shots which I never did before. You are never going to win things without a safety game. I enjoy that part of snooker now.
“I am 100 percent a different player. These things that I have been working on have allowed me to think about and see the game differently. I know my B game and my focus is better. This best of five match might not provide enough time to find out how much I’ve improved, but it will be a good test for sure.”
World number 60 Wakelin will head to the British Open to face an opponent he never thought he would meet, in the form of seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry. It’s an occasion which he is relishing.
Wakelin said: “Stephen is a legend. He is a living legend. It is an honour to be able to watch him play. It doesn’t matter how well he plays or who he plays. Just being able to see one of the best players ever to pick up a cue is amazing. I’m sure he will have been putting in plenty of work over the last couple of months. I think he will play in a lot more tournaments this season, but to be able to play him is great. He is the one that I looked up to when I was growing up. To be able to face him in a professional match is an exciting prospect.
“It is always nice to play under the TV lights. That is what we play for. It is all fine and well doing well on the back tables, but if you can prove to yourself that you can do it on the biggest stage that is a massive asset for the rest of the season. I’m not looking too far ahead. At the end of the day it is just another game. It is against Stephen which is great and for many years it looked like it wouldn’t be possible to face him.”
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