UK Championship: John Higgins the man to beat - Hendry

John Higgins
John Higgins has already won two ranking titles this season but believes Stephen Hendry's tally of 36 may be beyond him
UK Championship
Venue: York Barbican Dates: 24 November-6 December
BBC coverage: Watch on BBC Two, Red Button, BBC Sport website, Connected TVs, tablets, mobiles and app from 28 November. Full details.

Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry says fellow Scot John Higgins is the man to beat at this year's UK Championship in York.

Hendry, who retired in 2012 and remains the most successful snooker player of all time with 36 ranking event wins, will be back in the BBC Sport commentary box for the 2015 tournament.

And when the action gets under way on Tuesday, Hendry believes Higgins has the form and quality to succeed absent reigning champion Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The unexpected comeback

Four-time world champion John Higgins secured the 28th ranking title of his career by winning the International Championship in China. The 40-year-old Scot struggled for form for much of 2012 and 2013, and openly talked about his standards slipping. But he has won two ranking events so far this season and has said he has "not played much better" throughout his career.

"The form man is John Higgins - I have been very impressed with him. It might be too powerful a statement to say he has turned his career around, but at times I am sure he would have thought he would not be winning tournaments again. He looked low in confidence and like his career was winding down but his return has been pretty remarkable.

"A couple of years back he was quite open in talking about his struggles and I don't know if he is just working harder, but that is what I would hazard a guess at.

"Maybe his focus returned when he was struggling, but you can see how good a player he is. No-one is dominating the sport at the moment and he is definitely still one of the best around."

The usual suspects

(left to right) Mark Selby, Judd Trump, John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson
(Left to right) Mark Selby, Judd Trump, the in-form John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson will be among snooker's Usual Suspects chasing glory in York

"Along with John, it's the usual suspects. Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy - it's the same names I expect to be challenging. There are plenty of talented players, but these are still the guys to beat.

"Mark has the match-winning mentality and all the top players should be particularly focused on one of snooker's 'Big Three' events. These are the tournaments where you expect the best players to produce their best.

"Personally, I would be targeting this event. When I was playing and at my peak in the 1990s there were not nearly as many tournaments, but even then the focus would be on the Worlds, the UK and the Masters. Anything else was a bonus.

"And someone like Mark Williams has also been showing his quality. He's not winning tournaments, but is coming back to form. It will be an interesting tournament."

Introducing the world champion....

Stuart Bingham
Stuart Bingham had only ever gone beyond the second round of the World Championship once in eight attempts until this year's victory

Stuart Bingham, the 2015 Crucible champion has struggled for form so far this season, with his only noteable success coming with a run to the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters in September.

"For Stuart Bingham, being world champion brings huge expectation - from yourself and from others. Every time you play a tournament you are introduced as a world champion and I certainly used to feel like I had something to prove to live up to that.

"The pressure can go one of two ways when you are trying to prove why you are world champion - you can respond and try even harder than before or relax and think you've reached the pinnacle. Stuart has struggled so far this season, but proved he has the ability in Sheffield.

"With myself, when I got to seven world titles and beat Steve Davis I did think 'where do I go from here?' In a way it can be hard to get yourself back up. It depends on your mindset. He's had a tough time so it will be interesting to see how he responds in York."

Reluctant Ronnie

Ronnie O'Sullivan
Ronnie O'Sullivan has won the UK Championship five times - 1993, 1997, 2001, 2007 and 2014

Reigning UK Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan did not enter this year's tournament and has not played a competitive match since losing to Bingham in the quarter-finals of the 2015 World Championship in April.

"It's a real shame for any tournament to lose the biggest draw in the game and that is what Ronnie still is. Him not being involved is a big blow.

"But he is still playing snooker and obviously he still wants to play, otherwise he wouldn't be playing exhibition matches, so I very much doubt we have seen the last of him. He must have his own reasons for not entering."

O'Sullivan has also now said he intends to play the Masters in January.

China in your hand

Kyren Wilson
Qualifier Kyren Wilson was an unexpected winner at the Shanghai Masters in September
Main event winners 2015-16 season
Australian Goldfields Open 2015 - John Higgins
Shanghai Masters 2015 - Kyren Wilson
International Championship - John Higgins
Champions of Champions - Neil Robertson

Stephen Hendry has been working as a pool ambassador in China in recent years and says there is plenty of up-and-coming talent around the world. Schoolboy Yan Bingtao, 15, shocked Shaun Murphy at the Champion of Champions event in Coventry, but Hendry believes there is a huge step to make to turn talent into titles.

"I am still really enjoying that role. I am playing exhibitions and helping out. Snooker is still my life. The talent is there in China and it's not just in China. I saw Thepchaiya Un-Nooh reach a semi-final in China and he really impressed me.

"But it's about winning titles, not taking the odd big scalp. Great talents need to prove their talent by winning titles and that's not easy to do.

"Having that winning mentality is taking it to a completely different stage and you cannot teach that.

"Any given player can win a few matches, but it's taking the sport by the scruff of the neck and no-one from the next generation of players is doing that at the moment and that is what I look for."

Shaking up snooker

Barry Hearn
When Barry Hearn returned to snooker in 2010, he said the sport was "part-time and dying"

World Snooker supremo Barry Hearn has engineered some major changes since he took over as chairman in 2010. His decision to change the format of the UK Championship - sport's second biggest tournament - by introducing an all-in 128-person first round and shortening the length of the matches - was widely criticised.

"I have always preferred the longer format and longer matches and was quite critical when they changed the UK to make it a bit shorter: having longer matches separated it from the other tournaments, which I felt was right because it is the second biggest event in the snooker calendar.

"Now, if I am honest, I quite like it. Having the best-of-11 frames means you still get a big session and it's long enough. The sport has to compete with so many other sports and this helps for television and to promote the sport.

"But I would never want to see the World Championship changed. That should stay as it is."

Stephen Hendry was talking to BBC Sport's Owen Phillips.

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