John Higgins grew up watching Steve Davis and marvelling at his achievements and the clever, calculating, formidable way he played the game.

So when Davis referred to him as “the greatest player ever” after the Scot’s fourth world title victory last May, Higgins was understandably overjoyed.

“To be honest that meant more to me than winning trophies,” he told me. “I know a lot of people won’t agree with him. They’ll say Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan or Steve himself, which is fair enough.

“But for me to hear that from Steve, who was and remains my hero in snooker, was really special. He’s a complete one-off and an inspiration.”

Higgins, like Davis before him, plays the classical game. He always knows the right shot and, though it might not always come off, almost always plays it.

He took a dim view of the recent Power Snooker, in which many of the finer points of the game were discarded. “In the words of Sir Steve Redgrave, if you see me anywhere near it again you have my permission to shoot me,” Higgins said.

“Credit must go to Rod Gunner for getting it on. It’s good for young players but it wasn’t my thing at all. I won’t be playing in any more of them.”

And as a traditionalist, Higgins is also unhappy that the forthcoming UK Championship has been reduced to best of 11 frames from best of 17.

“I’ve always played best of 17 at the UK Championship and it’s lost prestige now. It’s more like the Masters in my eyes,” he said.

“Barry Hearn is doing a great job as chairman of World Snooker but I wished he had spoken to the players first about this, because most aren’t in favour. He hasn’t given a proper reason yet for the change.

“I would rather have played a best of 17 qualifier to get to York than go there for best of 11s. I know the BBC want the top players guaranteed, but in the past they chose four players to play on TV in the last 32 and maybe could have done that again.

“Barry is a great promoter and doesn’t need to be coming to snooker players to check 99% of his decisions, but this is one he should have asked us about.

“I think Barry thinks people’s attention spans in the UK can’t handle longer matches. But I think you could lengthen matches in other countries. I hope we have a longer format tournament somewhere abroad.”

Higgins stresses he is not about to join the increasingly vocal group of players complaining about various aspects of Hearn’s tenure.

“Barry is the best man for the sport and snooker is moving in the right direction. I would give him 8/10 so far,” he said.

“Our sport couldn’t have got much worse but there was an appetite out there, in Europe and elsewhere, for the game. It just took someone with the skill to make it all work, which Barry has.

“If someone rang up to get a tournament on in Brazil he’d be on the first plane over there to get the deal done. He has an ego as big as Don King’s, so he wants to do as well as he can, for himself and the game. That’s what we need.”

Speaking of Brazil, Higgins did not enter the new invitation event there in September, citing the crowded calendar. Hearn publicly criticised him and other players for not supporting this new tournament.

“Barry took a pot-shot at us over Brazil, and probably rightly so because you do need top players to go to new places, but he’s made mistakes as well with the calendar. He’s trying to grow the sport but he has to try and manage the calendar better, otherwise you will get players not going.

“The game is heading in the right direction but it will involve more travelling, and you don’t enjoy that so much as you get older. The future of the game is the younger players, like Judd Trump. They don’t mind travelling so much but the top players will be picking and choosing the tournaments they play in.

“With my ranking, in the next couple of years I can do that, but if you fall down, like Ronnie O’Sullivan has, you don’t get so much of a choice because you don’t want to drop out of the top 16.”

Higgins returned to the circuit just over a year ago following his suspension and played like a man possessed, winning six titles big and small including the world and UK titles.

He put absolutely everything into every match, a level of commitment that it was impossible to sustain, particularly after the end of season break.

“It all frazzled my brain,” he said. “I put so much into my professional life that my personal life suffered.

“After the World Championship it was as if my brain exploded. I couldn’t have kept that intensity up and it’s taken a while to get back on an even keel.”

At 36, he is not at an age where snooker players improve. Usually they are entering some sort of decline by now, although there is no evidence of that with Higgins.

Like Davis before him, his all round game should keep him in good stead to compete at the top level for many more years, if he has the appetite to do so.

“Someone pointed out to me that I’ve won world titles in three different decades, which is some achievement. But I know I will be falling away soon,” he said.

“You want to fight it off. You want to be trying to fight to improve, but you know it’ll happen because it happens to every player. Like a golfer losing your length off the tee, you notice it happening with certain parts of your game.”

As for York, his UK Championship defence starts against Rory McLeod, a methodical, tough as old boots campaigner who Higgins battled against in a lengthy second round tie at the Crucible.

“You know what you’re going to get with Rory,” Higgins said. “At the Crucible I saw what he did to Ricky Walden in the first round, the way he got into his head, and I knew I couldn’t let him dictate the match against me.

“I think Rory deserves great credit for getting through the qualifiers. He rarely loses a qualifying match. He doesn’t seem to play as well at the venues but I think he will do one of these days. But you have to concentrate on playing your game your way.”

The way Higgins plays is still what most players aspire to. His ‘slow’ start to the season is a bit of a myth. He’s already done enough to qualify for the PTC grand finals and, of the two full ranking events, he’s been in a quarter-final.

There is no reason to believe he won’t come right for the big events of which, despite its reduction in frames, the UK Championship remains a test of skill and nerve and a prestigious title to win.

“I’m confident in my form,” Higgins said. “The PTCs are mainly about jockeying for position to get into the finals but top players tend to raise their games for the major tournaments.”


Colin M said...

Lovely comments from John about Steve Davis.

If Steve Davis were a piece of software, John Higgins would be that software plus the "master breakbuilder" service pack!

But even with the service pack installed, there's no guarantee you'll get a result as the 2010 WC 2nd round match proved!

Steve Davis deserves a knighthood and for me, he's stil the greatest ever.

Sonny said...

My only criticism of John is that he was one of the voices calling for the World Final to be reduced to one day. Either he's forgotten about that or he's woken up and seen sense since then.

The attention span arguement is a load of old cobblers. The BBC have conducted numerous polls down the years with loaded questions asking the public to vote on if they prefer longer or shorter matches and the overwhelming majority always come out in favour of longer matches. The reduction of the UK is a travesty for the game, the dumbing down of the second biggest event should never have been allowed to happen, and the excuse about it being done for television purposes has turned out to be a lie given the BBC will mostly be screening the snooker on the non-HD BBC2 channel for tiny chunks of an hour at a time, which is no time for anyone to get involved in a match.

As to the arguement about who is the best snooker player of all time, John Higgins name is definitely in the mix. When it comes to the actual game of snooker rather than the style of player, he is certainly the best I've seen.

Anonymous said...

ah higgy

the 2nd best player ever from scotland

the 2nd best player theres ever been, behind hendry

thanks dave

147 said...

A bit disappointed you did,nt ask him anything about the mess he got himself into in kiev and why the current world champion does not have a web site.

Gerard said...

Sonny, I agree with you that the UK shouldn't have been touched. But BBC2 will have Live coverage, BBC Two from 12.30 - 15.45 for the majority of the tournement, so I there will be a chance to get into a match. I'd still rathter see a best of 17 though.

There should be variety: In my opinion the calander should consist of alt least 4 tournements with longer matches (BBC), Euro PTC's (6 on Eurosport), a couple of Asian/Australian tournements (online) and 2 dumbed down events (Sky).

Anonymous said...

Mmm only 8 out of 10 for Hearn John ? Would of thought you'd give him 10 after he swept your disgraceful behaviour under the carpet. Yes your a great player. That's what makes it worse.

Sonny said...

Gerard - yes I do see that but snooker used to be on until 6pm on BBC2, ok usually with some horse races along the way but that was their standard, followed by 7pm till half 8 until the latter stages when you'd get more. Now it ends at quarter to four! The opening day we're on BBC1 between 1pm and 2pm then 4:30pm till 5:30pm and that's it. Last action on Sunday is 5:30pm then until Thursday there's nothing between 3:45pm and after 11pm!

So much for reducing to best of 11 for television purposes, so much for attempting to bring in new viewers. We're going to see less snooker than ever on the terrestrial channels now. OK yes it's on the red button service but that's going to be cut next year, and the picture is far too fuzzy for this day and age.

Thank god for Eurosport and their HD service. Shame about the commentators though. ;-)

Anonymous said...

147 said...
A bit disappointed you did,nt ask him anything about the mess he got himself into in kiev and why the current world champion does not have a web site.

2:10 PM

do you get disappointed when interviewers dont keep asking ronnie about his walkout in the uk, or his request for a sex act etc.. ?

seriously think you just posted to get a bite

Ray said...

I'm well aware that frames have been reduced in the UK a few times but this is a cut too far. Especially as it's the 2nd most important tournament on the snooker calendar. This and all the other "initiatives" to try and speed the game up - and yet players are still allowed to leave the arena time after time, after time,during a game. Where they are going or what they are doing nobody knows. I remember Steve Davis taking this to absurd levels when playing Dott at the World Championships a few years ago.Instead of (rightly)seething in his chair Dott should perhaps have waited for Davis to return then he should have gone out, thereby making the game a bigger laughing stock than it already was.
I'm with Clive Everton on this with his view that all play should be continuous, as in tennis. Didn't somebody once say "The obvious is hardest to fathom". It's so annoying and unnecessary and the sooner the rules are changed the better.

Anonymous said...

Pleased to see his comments about Power "Snooker". Sadly I think the viewing figures for it were quite good for ITV4 (300,000 - 400,000) so this probably isn't the last of it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Mmm only 8 out of 10 for Hearn John ? Would of thought you'd give him 10 after he swept your disgraceful behaviour under the carpet. Yes your a great player. That's what makes it worse.
some people just cant let go.....

he never cheated

get over yourself

Ayrshirebhoy said...

Shocking news that sonny about the bbc. I worry about snooker. Hearn seems to want to down grade it.

Ayrshirebhoy said...

Oh and nice interview Dave. Good luck to Higgins defending his uk!

Betty Logan said...

To be honest, what can anyone ask Higgins about Kiev what i) he hasn't already been asked and ii) he's willing to answer? If anyone still thinks there is a case to answer to, he clearly isn't going to answer to it now so I'd rather hear his views on the UK format changes, Power Shite, and the current direction of the game. It fills me with joy to read that he's boycotting future Power Snookers, when players like Higgins participate it helps sustain the delusions of the promoters.

Anonymous said...

We need answers from Mr Hearn!

Anonymous said...

very well said betsy boy

Anonymous said...

The snooker is on the red button and Eurosport. Who cares if BBC dont show it?

Anonymous said...

Dave's job is to ask the questions that the public want to hear and what they want to hear from Higgins is why he agreed on tape to fixing matches.

Anonymous said...

In reply to post above.

Higgins has already answered that question and its time to move on.

Whatever your thoughts on the situation he came back and showed everyone why he is one of the best that has ever picked up a cue by winning the UK, Welsh and World Championship (4th time).