Higgins’ Quarter-Century Milestone
It’s 25 years since John Higgins first won the World Championship, in 1998. Since then he has gone on to become a four-time Crucible King.
We caught up with the Wizard of Wishaw before this year’s tournament in Sheffield to reflect on his best – and worst – moments at the Theatre of Dreams.
John, what are you memories of the 1998 Championship?
The tournament beforehand, I played Stephen Hendry in the British Open final and I won it so that gave me a bit of confidence going to Sheffield. I beat Jason Ferguson 10-8 in the first round, then played Anthony Hamilton which was another tough one. I was 6-2 down after the first session and I came back to 8-8 in the second. I remember playing really well in the last session and making three centuries to win 13-9. I had John Parrott in the quarter-finals and I just got by 13-11. Then I had Ronnie. Usually matches with Ronnie at the Crucible are memorable, but this one I don’t recall too much about, expect it was pretty easy, 17-9. In the final it was Ken. He was obviously trying to be the only first-time winner to defend the title and I just remember feeling pretty confident with the way I was playing. I was 6-2 in front, I was then 10-6 overnight. I had a bit of a wobble in the third session, maybe because it suddenly dawned on me that later on that night I could be world champion. Ken came back at me really strong and I just managed to keep my lead at 13-11. Going into the last session, I didn’t know what to expect because I’d never been in that position before. I think I played pretty well that night. I felt calm and relaxed and I won 18-12.
How does that first title compare to the other three you have won?
The first one’s unique because you’re realising your dream of becoming World Champion so that probably has to be top. I don’t think it registers with you in that moment. For me it came a few months later when I realised it was a great achievement becoming World Champion for the first time. The fourth one that I won was maybe more important, with everything that was going on in my life at the time. Plus I had my wife and three kids with me which was very special. That might have been my last – but I’m hoping that’s not the case.
To what extent did that first title in 1998 change your life?
I was just the same person. I’ve always been a shy sort of person. I was invited to more things, but I always just refused. I kick myself now for turning some of them down but that was the way I was. I was more interested in going out with my mates for a couple of pints!
From 2007 to 2011 you won it three times in five attempts. That was a remarkable spell for you.
It was three great achievements and I beat some incredible players in finals who will go down in history – Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump. There was huge relief when I won the second one and that was maybe why I won a couple more so quickly because the tension and the pressure were off me. People were talking about the fact that I had only won it once, I was probably going through something like Neil Robertson is at the moment. Neil is without a doubt one of the best players to ever pick up a snooker cue, it must be frustrating because he has won so many big tournaments but people might judge him unfairly if he gets to the end of his career and he’s only won the world title once.
It’s know as the ‘marathon of the mind’ – what’s the tournament like in terms of the mental challenge?
There’s no other tournament like it. You go to sleep so many times not knowing what to expect the following day. You could go to bed with a good lead or be well behind, you could be level, there are so many emotions through those 17 days. The only thing I would say to people starting off in this game is try and rest as much as you can. Whenever you feel tired try and get a sleep because the further you go in the event, it’s pretty tiring. Adrenaline obviously keeps you going, but it’s draining physically and mentally. The final is a difficult match because everywhere else in the tournament you seem to have little breaks in matches and you can get yourself ready, but the final starts on the Sunday afternoon and you don’t stop until that Monday night whether you’ve won or lost. It’s just like a sprint because you finish the first session and have to get a bite to eat, a shower and change of shirt and then you’re back on again. It’s always a mentally draining event.
From 2017 to 2019 you lost three finals in a row, how tough was that to take?
It was more painful seeing how crushed the kids were than for me and how I felt after losing. That’s what it’s all about and that’s why you’re still playing this game and putting in the effort to try and provide and give them your start in life. I remember the losses more than the wins without a doubt. I think back to the matches and how I would do certain things differently in the lead up to them. The one that stands out was when I played Mark Williams in the 2018 final. I was in this new apartment block and the fella that owned it basically said there was a mix up and we had to leave. I’m ready to play in the final of the World Championship and he says ‘I’m sorry, but it was booked out well in advance’. It was probably booked out for fans to come down to watch it. I was happy to pay for them to have other accommodation for the couple of nights and a meal because I was settled there, but he said he couldn’t. Maybe he was rooting for Mark Williams! That night I was traipsing around Sheffield trying to get a hotel room and there weren’t many available. I managed to get one at the Leopold and everyone’s looking at me with my stuff. There was a wedding going on and I didn’t get a wink of sleep because I was right above the dance floor. I don’t think Mark knew, he was too busy out having kebabs. In the first session I was 4-0 down before I knew what was happening. It’s just things like that you think back to, they are things that you remember and that stick in your mind.
It’s 30 years since Ronnie O’Sullivan first played at the Crucible and the Class of ’92 are still going strong. How proud are you to be part of that trio?
If you’re ever classed with those sorts of people then you can never be disappointed. It’s a great achievement. If you’d have told us 30 years ago when we were turning professional that we’d still be there competing, it’s amazing. It’s something to be proud of, that we are still regarded as contenders. You don’t want to stop at 30, you want to keep going as long as you can.