Snooker: John Higgins sees signs of decline

A despondent John Higgins talks to the media after his shock first-round exit in Sheffield. Picture: PA
A despondent John Higgins talks to the media after his shock first-round exit in Sheffield. Picture: PA
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JOHN Higgins conceded he may have a few too many miles behind him after he crashed out in the first round of the 2013 World Snooker Championship.

Higgins, a four-time world champion and universally recognised as one of the greatest fighters the game has ever seen, fell at the first hurdle 10-6 to Mark Davis at the Crucible.

Now 37 years old, Higgins has made a career out of storied comebacks that have carried him to 27 ranking titles, third overall on the all-time list.

The last of those came at September’s Shanghai Masters but since then he has looked a shadow of his former self, failing to progress beyond the quarter-finals at the UK Championships and Masters. And, after being sent packing by Davis, the man they call the ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ admitted he might be paying the price as he approaches his 40s for his many trophies on the mantelpiece. “For the last 20 years I have been competing at the business end of tournaments and maybe that has started to catch up with me,” said Higgins. “That’s not to say that I cannot come back and win again but it’s how I feel at the moment and it’s not a nice feeling to have, I’m not sure how you get over it.

“I don’t feel as if I’m doing myself justice at the moment but it’s very tough out there and Mark was fantastic, he punished me every time I gave him a chance.

“Mark’s 40, so clearly it’s not an age thing but I have been going deep into tournaments for a long time now and maybe that’s the problem but I’m missing shots and I don’t know how I’m missing them.”

And, if Higgins’ result wasn’t bad enough, there was more bad news for the Scots in action yesterday with Stephen Maguire having it all to do if he is to make it to the second round in Sheffield. Backstage at the Crucible can be a puzzling maze for the uninitiated and Maguire’s opponent, Thai newcomer Dechawat Poomjaeng, fluffed his entrance in comic fashion.

But missing the players’ tunnel for his walk-out and then marching to the wrong table was no indication of what was to come, as the 34-year-old soon settled in to his unfamiliar surroundings and threatened to cause a major shock against Maguire, a semi-finalist last year.

He built a 5-3 lead at the end of the opening session.

Graeme Dott was facing a late finish in his heavyweight clash with Peter Ebdon. The Scot resumed at 8-6 up late last night after the evening matches were concluded. The former world champions, who clashed in a final that finished at 12.52am seven years ago, were so sluggish in the two sessions allocated to their match that extra time was required.

Ebdon looked doomed at 6-2 but won four frames in a row to level before Dott edged ahead again. The match had stretched to six hours and 45 minutes before its resumption. The longest first-round match in Crucible history saw the late Eddie Charlton beat Cliff Thorburn 10-9 in 1989 in 10 hours, 24 minutes.

Meanwhile, showman Judd Trump came under fire from his oldest friend in snooker on the eve of his first match at this year’s World Championship.

Matthew Selt, who makes his Crucible debut today against world No 1 Mark Selby, has accused Trump of making “barbaric” comments about Neil Robertson. And his spat with Trump, who starts his title bid against Dominic Dale, has taken a 15-year friendship to breaking point. Selt said: “I’ve known Judd since he was eight years old. I was really pretty much best mates with him... Obviously he started climbing the game, doing what he’s doing now, becoming one of the best players in the world.

“And it’s weird when your mates [change]. I’ve known Neil Robertson since he was nothing really, and you see people like that who doesn’t change one bit, and people like John Higgins, Joe Perry and Mark Williams are the same people now as they were when they were just getting on the tour. And obviously Judd’s a fantastic player but he said something ridiculous when he lost to Neil at the Masters last year. He said that Neil’s done very well out of the game for his talent, and that’s absolutely barbaric because in my opinion he’s never going to be as good as Neil.

“I sent him a message saying, ‘Look Judd, you’re not like that, you shouldn’t be saying stuff like that, that isn’t you’.

“He didn’t get back to me. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. I’ve moved on from having Judd as my friend to having Stephen Hendry.”

Last year’s runner-up Ali Carter came from behind to edge 5-4 ahead of fellow Englishman Ben Woollaston.

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