UK Championship 2016: John Higgins feared 'journeyman' status

John Higgins
John Higgins last won the World Championship in 2011, when he beat Judd Trump in the final
Betway UK Championship
Venue: York Barbican Dates: 22 November to 4 December
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Connected TV, Red Button, BBC Sport website and app from Saturday, 26 November. TV times and channels

A shock first-round World Championship defeat in 2014 left John Higgins fearing his snooker career was drifting into relative mediocrity.

Having lost to fellow Scot Alan McManus, Higgins questioned if he had simply become a "journeyman" professional; a player who was still capable of having his day, but was no longer one of the sport's big boys.

"I didn't want to be seen like that," Higgins, 41, told BBC Sport as he bids to win a fourth UK Championship title. "I still wanted to be a top player.

"I thought I was good still good enough, but I wasn't playing well enough.

"It doesn't matter what you have won, if you are not playing well enough then there is nowhere to hide. I did get a bit down on myself."

The four-time world champion, three-time UK Championship winner and double Masters champion refused to accept quietly slipping down the rankings.

Cue a change in cue, a change in confidence - and a change in fortunes.

"I have tended to muck about with cues quite a bit over the years," said Higgins, who faces Thailand's Noppon Saengkham in the second round of the UK Championship on Saturday. "But this time it has made a big difference.

"I have had a new cue for a while now and that has played a big part in my form in the last 18 months or so. It has definitely given me confidence."

Higgins has since proved himself wrong

John Higgins
John Higgins beat Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Champion of Champions event final on 12 November

The current world number four won three more ranking events in 2015 to take his tally to 28 and put him joint-second on the all-time winners' list.

It is some list; Higgins is level with fellow legends Ronnie O'Sullivan and Steve Davis, with the trio eight behind Stephen Hendry.

This season, Higgins has also won both the China Championship and Champions of Champions. Last week, at the Northern Ireland Open, he scored the eighth 147 break of his career. So much for being a journeyman.

Higgins was unable to make it three tournament wins in a row, with another multiple ranking event winner, Mark Williams, ending his run in Belfast.

"If you said to me did I want to carry on winning and win another tournament then of course I did," added Higgins, who beat Alex Borg in the UK Championship first round. "But maybe it was not such a bad thing.

"I got a couple of days back home to relax with my family.

"The tour is a lot different these days but I have never believed in picking and choosing. I take the runs whenever they come."

Playing more and practising slightly less suits the Scot. He prefers match-play - either for real or on the practise table - to long hours spent alone honing his skills.

But when it comes to tournaments, he still misses the longer matches. He says the event at the York Barbican has lost some of its prestige since it dropped to best-of-11 matches.

"Personally I thought it was a bigger tournament when it was over the longer format," he said. "It's not quite the same buzz when it's first to six.

"I love the 17-frame matches. There are so many other tournaments around competing and although it's still a big tournament, it's not quite so clearcut now."

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