John Higgins has revealed he has been forced to start spin classes away from the snooker table to extend his golden 29-year professional career after a worrying World Championship collapse that left him "struggling to breathe".
The Scotsman failed to live up to his pre-tournament billing as one of the Crucible favourites following his immaculate performance in lifting the Players Championship in February that included a 6-0 win over Jordan Brown, a 6-0 drubbing of Mark Selby, a 6-1 dismissal of Kyren Wilson and a 10-3 win over Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Higgins recovered from trailing 7-4 to Tian Pengfei to complete a 10-7 victory in the first round, but slumped to a 13-7 defeat to old rival Mark Williams in the second round in April.
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He admits the need to change his lifestyle was uppermost in the mind with spin taking on a different meaning following his premature departure from the sport's biggest event.
“I was disappointed. I think first and foremost, it was actually the worst that I’d ever felt on a snooker table. I did say after my first round match against Tian, which I think I was lucky to win, that there were some shots where I was struggling to breathe,” said the four-times world champion, who has not indicated when his first competitive action will come with the Championship League breaking off the new 2021/22 season on 4 July.
I faded away in that second round match against Mark after a good start. I don’t know if it was because of my eyesight at my age, or the fact I’ve been carrying a bit too much timber. That has never been an issue before, but I felt uncomfortable in Sheffield this year. I need to lose weight before the new season.
"Since the end of the World Championship I’ve got into these spin classes and I’ve really been enjoying it. I’ve been going three or four times a week. It’s on an industrial estate with music blaring, you come in and are going for it for 45 minutes.
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"At the end you are drenched in sweat and absolutely knackered. I’ve never been one for the gym, but I’ve always enjoyed the exercise bike. I’ve lost about a stone so far, but there is obviously more to go. I don’t know when my first tournament next season will be, I’ll see if I need to get my waistcoat tailored a bit.
"That is the target and I want it to make a difference. It won’t mean I’ll play better, but hopefully I will feel better. It was a wee bit worrying at the Crucible this year."
“The way I performed at the Players Championship still gives me great confidence going into next season. To know that I can still win tournaments and play at that level. I felt I was practising well with Stephen Maguire and Anthony McGill in our unit. However, with a week or so to go before the Crucible I just felt I’d left my best form behind.
"You can never plan to peak for a specific event. You just have to hope if comes at the right time. I could feel in my own head, that whether it was mentally or physically, I ran out of steam."
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Higgins watched Selby join him as a four-times world champion last month and believes his 18-15 win over 2005 world champion Shaun Murphy in the final has catapulted him into the sport's GOAT debate.
Former world number two Tony Knowles has stated his belief that Higgins is the greatest all-round player to pick up a cue.
“It was unbelievable seeing Mark win it for a fourth time. To win four titles out of the last eight years is incredible. That is an amazing achievement when you think that the standard has never been higher," added Higgins, who carried off the trophy in 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011.
Is he the best player ever to pick up a cue? You have to ask that question now. With the standard as tough as it is, for him to win four is fantastic. He is so hard to play over that amount of frames.
“He was unplayable at times this year. I know Stuart Bingham had his chances, but that was it really," Higgins told World Snooker Tour.
"Mark got a grip on the final and Shaun Murphy was playing catch up near the end. Although Shaun was playing some brilliant stuff, you just always felt Mark would have enough to get over the line. You can only tip your hat to somebody as good as that.
"He is in a good position to add more in the coming years. He is so tough mentally and so tough on the table. He will win more world titles I have no doubt. It will be hard for him to beat Stephen Hendry’s seven world titles, but personally I think if he wins five or six, that is better. Mark would have done it in a more competitive era.”
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