John Higgins has sights set on winning April’s World Snooker Championship as he looks to deny Ronnie O’Sullivan the chance to match Stephen Hendry’s modern era tally of seven triumphs, with world No 1 Judd Trump also looking to build on his sole 2019 victory.
The Worlds are snooker’s biggest prize with O’Sullivan a six-time Crucible champion after getting the better of Kyren Wilson 18-8 to net the £500,000 winnings last year.
The 45-year-old, a record 37-time ranking title winner, is plotting to claim back-to-back triumphs at the tournament for the second time in his career after 2012 and 2013.
O’Sullivan has only ever lost one final at the Worlds having been bettered by Mark Selby in 2014 though still finds himself behind the great Hendry.
Top-ranked Trump, meanwhile, is looking to build on his 2019 victory over Higgins in the Triple Crown tournament having been challenged by O’Sullivan in January to go on and win 60 to 70 ranking titles given his quality and his age, at just 31.
Higgins, meanwhile, is a four-time Worlds winner but lost three successive finals between 2017 and 2019 to Selby, Mark Williams and Trump.
The 45-year-old Scot became the oldest ranking title winner since Doug Mountjoy in 1989 by beating O’Sullivan in the Players Championship final in Milton Keynes on Sunday.
Higgins was imperious throughout the entire week and dropped just four frames across his four matches, three of which came in his 10-3 victory of long-time rival O’Sullivan on the final day.
Now, the 31-time ranking title winner is plotting a fifth success at snooker’s most prestigious tournament next month – and has warned O’Sullivan, Trump and co. that he’s feeling more confident than he has in the last few years despite his recent finals appearances.
“This is the best week so far in my career, but to win the Worlds for a fifth time, that would obviously top it,” Higgins declared.
“It’s going to be really difficult but listen, I’m going there now in a better frame of mind than I’ve done in previous years, so that’s a good thing.
“I think it must have [sent a message]. I was maybe a player in the last couple of years that the top boys would come against thinking, ‘well if he plays well he’s got a chance but if he doesn’t play well I can knock him over pretty easy.’
“So this must let everybody know that I’m still a contender.”
And he said after losing to Higgins: “To be honest with you, as long as I keep pitching up playing, all you can do is just do your best.
“If your best is good enough to only get you to finals then you have to accept that. Hopefully one week I’ll get it right on the final day and hopefully get a trophy.
“But you can’t be too disappointed. There’s 126 players that would swap positions with me at the moment. You’ve got to take some positives from it.
“John was unbelievable this week, fantastic, played brilliant snooker, masterclass today and it’s good to see such a great player back winning.
“It’s good for snooker, that you don’t see very often. I’m happy for John and his family.”
King of the Crucible Hendry, who dominated in the 1990s with five straight successes between 1992 and 1996, is meanwhile plotting a return to his favourite venue this year after his snooker comeback.
The 52-year-old returns to the table for the first time in nine years at the Gibraltar Open at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, an event from which O’Sullivan and Higgins have withdrawn after their Players Championship final.
Hendry is not coming out of retirement merely for the fun of it however and is desperate to play at the Worlds once more.
“I lost 13-2 to Steve Maguire and I basically gave up about a third of the way through the match,” said Hendry looking back at the 2012 quarter-finals of the World Championships.
“I knew it was over. I knew I couldn’t compete. I would like my last match at the Crucible, if possible, to be a match I can look back on and think, ‘I played well, I did everything I could even if I lost’.
“I want a game where I can be happy with what I gave rather than that 13-2 embarrassment. One of my goals in this comeback is not about winning, but just to get back to the Crucible.
“I am going to have to win four matches [in qualifying] just to get there, almost a mini tournament, so it’s going to be so, so difficult. But there’s no point in setting yourself easy goals.”