Higgins: JT will feel pressure
John Higgins has warned that last year's sensation Judd Trump will feel a whole new level of pressure as favourite to win the world title.
As a qualifier, Trump made a thrilling start 12 months ago as he knocked out defending champion Neil Robertson on day one, before going all the way to tackle Higgins in the final.
Higgins edged out the young pretender that day, but Trump demonstrated his Sheffield success was not a one-off by triumphing at this season's UK Championship and climbing to number two in the world rankings.
The 22-year-old with a penchant for "naughty" snooker and fast cars would be a popular winner, but Higgins, who won his first world title at the same age, knows it will not come easy.
"It's going to be tough for him because he's fancied now and he's obviously the favourite for the event," Higgins said.
"If someone had said to him last year when he was going into the event, 'Next year, you're going to be favourite for it', he wouldn't have believed you, but it only goes to show how far he's come.
"Obviously there's lots of people out there who want to see him go back and go one better."
Higgins has endured what for him amounts to a fallow year, proving unable to consistently reproduce the form which brought him a fourth Crucible title last May.
"I know why I'm not the favourite. But making Judd the favourite? I think you could make the case for a lot of players," Higgins said.
"You could make the case for Neil Robertson, for Mark Selby as world number one, for Ronnie O'Sullivan coming back to form."
Selby is not only coming back from a neck problem, he is also a world number one without a world title, which inevitably raises questions over whether his ranking is credible. Not that Higgins is in any doubt about Selby's class.
"It's hard for Mark," Higgins said. "People are maybe not giving him the credit he deserves, because he's far and away the world number one.
"He's the most consistent, but I think it's until he wins that world title.
"He'll be trying harder than anybody, you know that, because he's such a top-class competitor, but there's lots of players going for their first world title.
"You look at Ding Junhui as well. I'd be flabbergasted if he never wins a world title, because he's that good also."
Last season began for Higgins with a suspension, his punishment for non-disclosure and giving the impression he was prepared to break betting rules following the News of the World sting of April 2010.
It ended with glory and tears of joy in Sheffield, but the Scot was heckled during his semi-final against Mark Williams, with one spectator standing up and shouting out, "You're a disgrace to snooker".
Higgins, 36, brushed it off at the time and is confident he would not be affected if there was a similar incident at the World Championship this year.
"It was water off a duck's back," he said. "If I'm heckled again, I'm heckled again. It's one of those things I've just got to live with, so we'll cross that bridge if and when we get to it."
Having neglected his game since last summer, admitting his practice has tailed off, Higgins has been putting in the hours this month.
But despite claiming after his 18-15 win over Trump last year that his target was to match Stephen Hendry's tally of seven titles, Higgins now sees that as a long shot.
"I think to be brutally honest I was a little bit high on my success when I said that," he said.
"You can only look at the facts and I've won four world titles in nearly 20 years as a professional, and I've got to be honest and say I've got another maybe five or six years playing at the top level."
Higgins returns to the Crucible for an opening match on Saturday against Chinese qualifier Liang Wenbo knowing that Stephen Hendry was the last player to successfully defend a world title, when he captured a fifth successive world title in 1996.
"To win another three? It's probably not the easiest thing to do," Higgins said. "Seven is probably out of reach."