Scotland’s four-time World Champion John Higgins expects a tough test against world number 57 Joe O’Connor in the opening round of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open on Sunday.
Players Champion Higgins lost his first two meetings with Leicester’s 25-year-old O’Connor, but has won the following two matches between the pair. Higgins believes that O’Connor has all the credentials to make a success of himself on the World Snooker Tour. However, he says the high standard of the current era makes it difficult for young players breaking through.
Having taken a break from practising following the British Open, Higgins admits his preparations for this week haven’t been ideal, but is bracing himself for a busy few months ahead.
Higgins said: “Joe is a really good player with a good all round game. It is different now for Joe. He won the rookie of the year and has a lot of expectation on his shoulders now to go and kick on. It is obviously a little bit tougher and people are expecting him to win a lot of matches. When he first came on he was an underdog in a lot of the games. He has a good head on his shoulders and I believe he plays a lot with Tom Ford. He is a hard worker and I think he will do really well in the game.
“Without a doubt it is harder for them (young players) now. If they were coming through in my era it would have happened a lot earlier. You’ve still got Mark Williams and Ronnie winning tournaments now and you have Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy playing to a great standard, as well as Kyren Wilson, Anthony McGill and Judd Trump. It is a lot harder for young players to break into the top 16. They are top players if they can do that with the quality that is about now. If they can break into the top 16 they will be doing something special.
“I’ve not been feeling too good with my game. I’ve just been picking balls out for Stephen Maguire for about the last week. I’m not looking forward to it at all really. I’ve only been back for maybe a week to ten days because we knew we had six or seven weeks off. I’ve just been doing what most of the boys have been doing and putting my cue away. You know it is going to kick in soon in the next few months, so I just want to try to be as fresh as I can be, as it is a long season from now on.
“It’s a great venue at the Waterfront. I never seem to do great there, although I did get to the semi-finals one year. All the players get good support over there. It is an arena that lends itself to snooker. I’m looking forward to it and I’ve got a few friends over there as well, so they normally come down to the snooker. I’m taking my wife and two kids over as they are off for October. We are staying on the coast about an hour away from Belfast. Hopefully I’ll be travelling back and forth for my games, if not I’ll be having a holiday with the kids.”