Defending champion John Higgins: I'll be shaking like a leaf at the Crucible


As sporting arenas go, the Crucible Theatre is architecturally one of the dullest in the world.

A concrete breeze-block shell situated on a central Sheffield street, its exterior offers not the slightest hint of its stature.

Step inside, enter the inner sanctum and gaze down upon the green baize and suddenly the Crucible comes alive and lives up to its name.

Higgins

Table tension: Higgins admits he never knows how he will play as he heads to the Crucible

It is snooker’s Augusta, its Wimbledon, its Wembley. And it is here at 10 o’clock this morning defending champion John Higgins will open the 17-day marathon that is the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship.

Whatever else ails snooker, it is not its crown jewel. Higgins, three times champion, has enjoyed the honour of opening the tournament twice before.

Check, make that endured the honour. Even winning the world title does not make you immune to the Crucible’s suffocating aura, it seems.

Higgins said: ‘You can have a successful season, yet go to the Crucible and fall flat on your face. I’ve also gone there really struggling with my game and then over 17 days something clicks inside you and you go on and do well.

‘Even when you step through that curtain, you don’t know how you’re going to play. You go out hoping. And kicking off the tournament as the defending champion has got to be the most nerve-racking of all.

‘I’ve never felt pressure like it when you’re the one playing the first shot on the opening day of the world championship.’ 

Higgins

Defending champ: Higgins

So what has the 34-year-old Scot learned from those other two occasions?

‘Nothing whatsoever. You just go out there, your hands are shaking like a leaf, you’ve not slept the night before because you’ve been frightened of sleeping in because it’s a 10 o’clock start.

‘You’ll be waking up at two hourly intervals, at two o’clock, at four, at six and then once it hits seven or half past seven you’ll have to get yourself ready and get down to the Crucible.

‘I always try and have a bit of cereal with a banana, but sometimes you can’t even eat it because your throat is closing up, just with the tension. That’s me, anyway.’

Higgins will notice a difference when he enters the Crucible arena. He will be accompanied by music — the only innovation which snooker’s resuscitator Barry Hearn has brought to this year’s world championship.

The purists will hope for a Higgins-Ronnie O’Sullivan final, the game’s most tactically astute player against its most naturally gifted. 

Ronnie O'Sullivan

Enigma: Ronnie O'Sullivan

For that to happen, Higgins must find a way of shelving the responsibility he feels as defending champion, while Rocket Ronnie has to ignore the maelstrom of doubt which too often envelops him.

O’Sullivan said: ‘When I play decent snooker, then I know that everybody’s having a good time. It’s like hosting your own party and when I’m playing well and on song, you kind of do have the crowd in your hands.

‘That’s what so frustrating. When you do turn it on, it’s a great feeling. When you don’t, you feel like you’re letting people down, letting yourself down, wasting your time and theirs. They’re waiting for something to happen and it ain’t happening.

'That can be quite demoralising sometimes because everybody wants to make someone happy.’

Whichever O’Sullivan turns up, he can be sure that the uniqueness of the Crucible will accentuate those emotions.

JOHN HIGGINS' FOUR TO WATCH...

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN - The world No 1 and favourite. His talent is making the game look ridiculously easy and nobody can clear a snooker table with the style of O’Sullivan.

MARK WILLIAMS - The dominant player of the mid-2000s is coming back to form. He’s just won the China Open and has been world champion twice before.

DING JUNHUI - He’s changed his game a little bit. A couple of years ago he was maybe a little bit too open but has changed the way he plays and is going to be a very dangerous opponent.

NEIL ROBERTSON - An improved player with lots of confidence, like most Australians, which maybe gives him an edge. He got to the semi-finals last year.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now