John Higgins, the favourite to win the Betfred.com World Championship, insists every match matters as he attempts to make up for the lost six months of his career.
The three-time champion returns to the Crucible with the scars healing well after the scandal which at one stage looked to be threatening his career.
Accused of agreeing to throw frames in future matches following a newspaper sting which came to light hours before last year’s final in Sheffield, Higgins was suspended and later admitted breaching rules around betting.
The result was a six-month ban and £75,000 fine for bringing the game into disrepute.
Crucially, for his reputation and perhaps his career, charges of “agreeing or offering” to accept bribes and “agreeing to engage in corrupt or fraudulent conduct” were dropped.
He served the ban without too much complaint and has made a stunning return to competition, already winning the UK Championship and Welsh Open titles, returning to number one in the world in the process.
The Scot enters his 17th World Championship with an outlook which he confirms has been affected by his time out of the game.
“Every time I go on the table to try my best,” he said.
“Maybe in the last few years there were some matches I would say I was not playing my best.
“If I lost I would maybe just go home but now I want to win every match I play and I give 100% in every match and every shot, and that’s what I intend to do for the rest of my career.”
Higgins lost his father and biggest supporter, John snr, to cancer in February. On the same day as Higgins’ punishment was being meted out last September, his father learnt he was dying.
“It was a very tough year but luckily I can just move forward,” Higgins said during the recent China Open.
“There is no point looking behind you in life, always just look to the future, and hopefully things can be good in the future.”
He lost the next day, to Shaun Murphy, but is heading to Sheffield full of motivation and planning a long stay.
He begins against a qualifier, former world number five Stephen Lee. “It will be a long 17 days in Sheffield but hopefully I will be involved for all of it,” Higgins said.
“It would be fantastic to try to go there and win it but it’s going to be tough as there are so many great players. But if I can go and play my best then I must be in with a chance.”
Barry Hearn, chairman of World Snooker, agrees.
Hearn was deeply concerned for Higgins’ future in snooker when the allegations against the Scot came to light, but left an independent tribunal to consider the evidence and respected its conclusions.
“I have the greatest respect for John Higgins, for the fact that he went through this and came back, and did it when it matters,” Hearn said.
“John was getting involved in something which was way beyond his brief.
“But he’s a tough bloke at the table to play. He’s come back and had two ranking tournament wins. The guy’s a great, great player and quite rightly he’s right up there as the favourite.’’