UK Championship: John Higgins returns to York and ‘still hungry’ for silverware
A four-time world champion, Higgins has won everything in snooker as he heads to the York Barbican this weekend for the MrQ UK Championship.
The 48-year-old – who also has three UK titles and two Masters crowns in a career spanning four decades – is one of the toughest players on the circuit.
But even for a player with 31 ranking titles sitting in the trophy room, an ever present among the top 16 for 28 years – a record in the sport – and his name etched in snooker history, Higgins still has an appetite for the battle.
A granite approach. That mindset when you never know when you have been beaten.
It’s served him well – he made his UK Championship debut in 1992 – and fuels the inner belief that more silverware is just round the corner.
His last ranking title may have been the 2021 Players Championship, but he arrives in York relishing the battle.
“I’m still hungry, I really am,” said Higgins, who lost five finals during the 2021/22 campaign. “I’m playing well. I’ve just not been getting over the line lately, which you need to do in this sport. In the big moments, you need to take it. You need to grasp it and burst through that winning line.
“I’ve not managed to do that lately, but it is not for the want of trying. I really think I’m playing good stuff. People laugh, but I really don’t think I was as good a player 20 years ago as I am now. It is tough. I’m still enjoying the fight.
“The last win was a couple of years ago in the Covid times. I would dearly love to go in a big arena again and taste that winning feeling in front of the fans again. I suppose that is my goal right now and why I am putting the hours in. I would love to lift a trophy again,” added Higgins, who won his UK titles in 1998, 2000 and 2010.
This season Higgins has reached the semi-finals of the English Open, European Masters and International Championship. In a revealing interview in the official programme for the MrQ UK Championship – which starts today when Mark Allen opens his title defence against Ding Junhui, a repeat of last year’s final – Higgins was asked if he felt he had under or over-achieved in the early days of his career.
Higgins, whose opening match is against qualifier Joe O’Connor on Tuesday, said: “I think at that time, I was one of the top players in the game and I was winning big tournaments, so I would believe I’d underachieved a little bit looking at the present. If I fast forward to where I am now, I think I’ve overachieved with the way I’m playing.
“I would never have believed back in those days that I’d still be playing as well as I am now, in my late 40s.
“The way I feel going into big matches is still the same. I always I had a little bit of trepidation and a little bit of fear walking into these matches. I was never one of those players that was so confident I was thinking I would win.
“I don’t think I’ve ever changed my outlook that much. I just think when you have your whole career in front of you, things are different. Now I’m a father myself, with three kids that are making their own way in life.
“Snooker was the most important thing to me when I was in my 20s, and now it’s not. Back then it was all I was thinking about. I was trying to make a name for myself and win big events. Now I am enjoying just being here.”
Higgins is famously one of the ‘Class of 92’ along with Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams. All three will be in York, and there’s a good chance their paths could clash once again.
Higgins and O’Sullivan have met 70 times on the World Snooker Tour, the Scot has won 33 to the Rocket’s 37.
“There is a different buzz when you play Ronnie,” Higgins explained. “There has never been any animosity from me. There has always been a little bit of a feeling that I need to try to beat this guy. He has gone on to cement his place, in 99.9 per cent of people’s eyes, as the greatest.
“When we were 17, I thought he was incredible. There was something about him. I was proven right. I’ve always said there was a special ring around him, like the Ready Brek Man. Now when you play him, you see he is bigger than the sport. More people recognise him than anyone else and he has a huge fanbase around the world.
“You’d think when people look at rivalries, I might be one of his main ones. I suppose that is a good thing. He certainly has brought out the best in me. I’ve played some really good matches against him. He is an incredible player.”