Lean, mean, snooker machine: John Higgins could be in for a fine season

Casual snooker fans tuning in to the Northern Ireland Open may not have recognised John Higgins. The four-time world champion is a changed man, having lost nearly four stone during the off-season thanks to the spin classes he’s been taking in his spare time.

“It’s not helping me pot balls but it is helping me lose weight,” he said.“I just seem to be a little bit addicted to them. I go three or four times a week.I’ve lost about three and a half stone. I was 15 and a half stone at the Crucible and now I’m down to about 12.”

Higgins is fit as a fiddle now, and on the evidence of his form at the recent Northern Ireland Open, his snooker is in pretty good shape too. The Scot made it all the way to the final and looked favourite to win in the snooker betting after taking an 8-6 lead in the final. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as Mark Allen turned things around to win 9-8.

The world number seven will be disappointed not to have got his hands on a 32nd ranking title, but when he has had time to reflect, he’ll look back on a very productive week. It was hard to know what to expect from any of the top 16 players heading into the tournament, having not been in action since the British Open back in August. But it didn’t take long for the ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ to get into his stride.

Successive 4-2 wins over Joe O’Connor, Farakh Ajaib and Luca Brecel set up a last-16 meeting with Higgins’ old rival Mark Williams, and the two legends did not disappoint in terms of drama. Williams cruised into a 3-0 lead, and looked to have the match sewn up, but a missed red in the fourth frame sparked a classic Higgins revival, and the Scot took four on the spin to reach the quarter-finals.

David Gilbert was duly dispatched, setting up a semi-final repeat of the 2021 Masters final with Yan Bingtao. The 21-year-old took the first two frames, but Higgins then pounced, producing a run of six consecutive frames to blow Yan out of the water and earn a spot in the final.

The showpiece match could have gone either way, but there appears to be a new fire in Higgins’ belly this season. He clearly feels fitter and healthier, and that can only ever have a positive impact on a snooker player. So much of the game comes down to mental resilience and fortitude, and the better a player feels in themselves the better their decision-making will be.

This was one that got away for Higgins, but there are bigger prizes still to play for. His performances in Belfast will make him a favourite with the snooker betting tips when it comes to the UK Championship, Masters and, of course, the World Championship next April in Sheffield.

When in full flow, there are few players who can match Higgins, even at the ripe old age of 46. With a new lean physique, his appetite for success on the table looks as strong as ever.

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