John Higgins on Masters malaise, Mark Allen, Macau and retirement quandary

John Higgins has mixed feelings as he arrives at The Masters (Picture: Getty Images)

John Higgins admits there is a ‘wee bit of trepidation’ on heading to The Masters, a tournament he has won twice but has given him mainly bad memories.

The Wizard of Wishaw is playing in the iconic competition for the 30th straight year, taking on Mark Allen in the opening round on Tuesday afternoon.

While he has had some issues in terms of results in the tournament, he has absolutely no problem with the venue, saying Alexandra Palace is the best arena he has ever played in.

‘I would actually say the best, it’s probably the best arena I’ve played in as a professional,’ Higgins told ‘When you add everything in; the atmosphere, the big event, I’d say it’s the best.

‘I suppose if you just take the one-table set-up of the Crucible, with the history and the smaller venue with everyone crammed in. But from the get-go at Alexandra Palace nothing changes. First round, every match is a sell-out at Ally Pally, maybe there’s a bit of a feel good factor after the darts, it’s great.’

Higgins has been Masters champion twice and reached three more finals, a record most players can only dream of, but one he doesn’t rate too highly given the amount of times he has played in the event, admitting that he does not relish the tournament.

‘I’ve never had a great record there, it’s not been a great event for me,’ he said. ‘You enjoy playing in it, but I find nowadays it’s hard, I don’t really know what I’m about to say, but it’s hard to get yourself up for these big events when you’ve not had great memories there.

‘The Crucible, eight finals, I’ve got better memories there so I want to go and chase more memories there. The Masters has mainly been bad memories, so there’s a wee bit of trepidation going there.’

John Higgins last won The Masters by beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2006 final (Picture: Getty Images)

30 straight years of qualifying for The Masters shows the immense consistency of the 48-year-old, but thinking of the record has Higgins displaying how negative thoughts have crept into his mindset of late.

‘It’s a good achievement but it could be coming to an end,’ he said of his Masters run. ‘I’m not sitting great in the rankings going into the following year. I don’t know if I should be taking it in more this year because you may not be back there, who knows the emotions I will be feeling.

‘I think as a snooker player you’re not living in the year now, you’re looking six months or a year down the line and the position you’re going to be in. I’m in a battle to qualify for the Crucible and would then be outside the 16. But I’ve got a lot to play for now and can certainly play my way into a lot of big events, that’s what I should be concentrating on just now.

‘That’s maybe what’s been my problem in the last however many years, I’ve been thinking about the negatives rather than the positives, maybe I should be looking at the positives more.’

Higgins has reached three ranking semi-finals this season but has not been beyond that stage (Picture: Getty Images)

Higgins is hardly doing badly, sitting 12th in the world rankings and in the same spot on the one-year list, although the provisional end of season rankings do have him down in 20th.

The Scot has said before that he would consider his future in the game if he drops out of the top 16 and faces qualifying for more tournaments, but if he still thinks that, he is not certain.

‘It’s a hard one, it’s a hard one really. Who knows?’ Higgins said with genuine uncertainty. ‘I love the game, I love playing it, I love competing in it.

‘It’s just the off-table side of it, with the practice and different things where I’m just slowly losing that edge to put the practice in and put myself out there.

‘You can’t have one without the other. It’s a hard one. But right here and now I should be looking at the positives and going there and giving my all.’

The four-time world champion has a tricky task ahead of him as he looks to improve his Masters record this week, facing Allen in round one, a player he has huge respect for.

The Wizard is keen for revenge after a recent Champion of Champions semi-final defeat and the stinging Northern Ireland Open final loss in 2021.

‘Of course it’s tough, it’s been tough the last few times I’ve played Mark,’ he said. ‘He’s a fantastic player, fantastic all-round player, he’s got every facet to his game to a high level now.

‘Really, really tough game but an enjoyable game, we’ve had some good battles over the years and I’m sure it’ll be the same again. I’ll enjoy it and enjoy that great event again.

‘I do owe him one, I’ve lost a few big matches to him lately, so I’d love to get one back on him, but it’ll be a tough game.’

Allen has long been a force at the top of the game, a Masters champion in 2018, but has become a truly elite contender over the last two years and Higgins feels the 37-year-old is an inspiration.

‘I think Mark, even before he turned professional, he’s always been a winner, it maybe took him a little bit longer to find his feet on the pro game with how talented he is,’ said Higgins. ‘But he is someone that doesn’t want to stop getting better and find little advantages to his game.

‘He’s an inspiration to any player, not just young players but older players. Even in the top 16 he’s wanted to try and get better, he deserves everything he gets out of the game.’

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2023 - Day Twelve

Mark Allen has won the Champion of Champions and Shoot Out already this season (Picture: Getty Images)

Higgins, along with a string of other top players, saw some of their Masters preparation take place in exhibitions in Macau over Christmas, with the Wizard playing in the first of two, which was the event rearranged due to the Macau Five drama.

‘We had a great time,’ he said. It was different, I wouldn’t really like to do it every year at Christmas time, but we had a great time, it was special. It’s some place, Macau, it’s like it’s not real, a bit like Las Vegas.’

However, some resentment does linger over how the situation was handled, with the event moved to Christmas time so as not to clash with the Northern Ireland Open, which Higgins, Mark Selby, Luca Brecel, Ali Carter and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh ended up missing.

Higgins says Barry Hearn’s, the president of Matchroom Sport’s, comments that players could be ‘fined, banned or thrown out’ over the Macau exhibition saw the situation ‘blow up’ when it was being dealt with ‘cordially’ beforehand.

‘We were having cordial conversations about the things and then it all blew up with Barry getting involved. It was a shame,’ said Higgins.

‘I get their point of view, they’ve got to protect the tour and put the pressure on the players, but to say things about being thrown out was unjust and only a soundbite.

‘The players felt like we’d done everything by the book. But the [players] contract is as clear as mud. There’s stipulations in the contract that can be taken in four or five different ways.

‘It all got finalised and worked out better for the tour, in a way, but listen, it was what it was, it’s over and done with now.’

MORE : Barry Hawkins on Masters memories, motivation struggles and Neil Robertson’s ‘strange’ season

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