John Higgins is aiming to become the first player in history to win five world titles in four decades – and admits the achievement would be his greatest in snooker.
The Scotsman – who begins his latest campaign against two-times finalist Matthew Stevens at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Saturday and Sunday – won his first world title against Ken Doherty in 1998 with his other victories coming against Mark Selby in 2007, Shaun Murphy in 2009 and Judd Trump in 2011.
He has come up narrowly short over the past three years in losing finals to Selby, Mark Williams and Trump, but still has the desire to add to his gilded collection despite those disappointments.
Higgins could create a special piece of history if he can emerge victorious this time in becoming the first player in history to win five world titles over four different decades in his 28-year career.
“At first I didn’t know how that could really happen because I’m only 45, but if I managed that it would be unbelievable," said Higgins, who first appeared at the Crucible in 1995.
“But it’s one of them, you look at some of the older players coming through (qualifying) like Alan (McManus), Anthony Hamilton and then the likes of Mark (Williams) winning the title a couple of years ago. Ronnie (O'Sullivan) is still there, he’s obviously still a big favourite.
“So it’s great that all the old players are still playing to a high standard.
"I’ve had great times there. I’ve been in eight finals, won four and lost four. If someone had told me I’d have won four world titles growing up then I’d have bitten their hand off. But the last three years losing the finals has not been great.
“The Mark Selby defeat was probably the most disappointing because I was well clear in that match, but the last two years I was beaten by the best player of the tournament in Judd and Mark Williams.
“I always seem to go there and do well, I always give my heart and soul for it. And sometimes I manage to get to that final weekend.
“Going on results-wise compared to previous seasons, my form is probably not as good," added Higgins, who edged Stevens 17-15 in the 2001 World Championship semi-finals, but has not faced the Welshman for six years in a competitive match.
“But on saying that I’ve not really had great seasons the last three seasons and I’ve still managed to get to the final.
“It’s going to be difficult to go down there again and to try and get to another final. Trying to win it is going to be really, really difficult.
“But I’ve been enjoying my practise in the last 3-4 weeks, I’ve been having good games with Stephen [Maguire], Ants [Anthony McGill], Alan [McManus] and Graeme [Dott]. I’ve been getting in some good practise.
“Hopefully I can take my practise game on to the main table. It will be difficult, but that’s what you’re hoping to do.”
Ardent Celtic fan Higgins remembers showing off his first world trophy at Celtic Park on the day the Glasgow side denied their fierce city rivals Rangers a record 10 straight Scottish titles in 1998.
Higgins has no doubt what will be the greater achievement between him lifting another world crown and the Glasgow side achieving the landmark moment of 10 in a row this season.
Watch Higgins equal Hendry record with century
“Me doing five of course!," said Higgins. “It’s amazing when you think I paraded the trophy for the first time at Parkhead all those years ago.
“It was Celtic then trying to stop 10 in a row. I was there that afternoon. Oh my God, the tension there that day was incredible.
“I’m sure the tension this year is going to be just as crazy up in Scotland.”
The UK government has banned fans from the tournament due to concerns over a spike in Covid-19 infection rates with spectators not allowed to attend any pilot sports events for at least two weeks.
John Higgins and Judd Trump before last year's final.
Image credit: Getty Images
Higgins admits he is not overly concerned about the event being moved behind closed doors after fans were allowed access on the opening day.
The Players Championship and Tour Championship were held under strict guidelines at Milton Keynes in June and Higgins said: "I’d have been quite happy if the tournament had been played at the Marshall Arena where the last couple of events have been played. That was well self-contained.
“But I think it would be really difficult to move it because you’ve still got to have it in Sheffield because of (the deal with) Sheffield City Council.
“I don’t how you can have the bubble, otherwise it would have to be like the qualifiers where you’re getting on a bus and that ferries you back and forth to the hotel and venue.
“It would be a really long 17, 18 or 19 days for the winner, but look I’m sure there’s pros and cons for both ways.
“But the players just leave it up to the powers that be and follow the guidelines – and hope everyone stays safe.”