John Higgins is apprehensive he could be easy prey in the first round of the Betfred.com World Championship at Sheffield this month.
For the first time since he was crowned Crucible champion last May, the 36-year-old has been putting in the long hours on the practice table.
The Scot lost his appetite for the game after landing his fourth world title and admits a run of poor results this season have been caused by neglect of his talent.
At his best, Higgins is widely regarded as snooker’s greatest tactician and the meanest player when matches reach crunch point.
He hopes to regain some of the spark in time for his opening match in Sheffield this year, when he opens up the tournament on the morning of Saturday, April 21, but leaving it late to prepare could be inviting trouble.
“Kicking off the tournament at 10 on Saturday morning, you can’t feel pressure like it. You don’t want to fall flat on your face,” Higgins said. “I don’t want to go out of the tournament on Saturday night, which can easily happen. You want to give a good defence of your title.”
The Wishaw player, who overcame Judd Trump in a classic final last year, added: “I’ve gone to World Championships before not feeling that great and I’ve managed to come through and win.
“I’ve done it from both ends, but to go there and win it this year would be amazing because my form has been nowhere near good enough. If I win my first game it could all change.”
The seeds of doubt in the champion’s mind might not augur well, and the draw on Monday could throw up a tricky opener, with Stephen Hendry a possible first-round opponent should the seven-times champion survive a final-round qualifier on Sunday evening.
Higgins would relish that match, as he has never played his compatriot at the Crucible, but it would be demanding.
Speaking at yesterday’s tournament launch event in London, Higgins indicated he did not mind who he was paired against.
Seemingly any player would give him concern.
“I’ve always believed that you only get out of life what you put into it. I’ve only got out of this season what I’ve put into it, which is nothing really,” he said. “It’s not been nice going to the events where you know you’re not much of a runner.”
He added: “I’m not too confident, but I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve been hammering the practice table this last week and I’ve still got time to sharpen my game up.
“I can’t wait to get there and play in the World Championship again. The final atmosphere last year was the best I’ve ever played in in my life.”