John Higgins believes the World Championship could be the best of all time despite the likelihood that it will be played with no fans at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
The 44th staging of the sport's biggest tournament has been delayed from its traditional April and May schedule due to the global coronavirus pandemic, but is due to begin on Friday 31 July with the final on Sunday 16 August in Sheffield.
Four-times world champion Higgins lost last year's final 18-9 to undisputed world number one Judd Trump, who he meets again on Sunday over the best of 19 frames at the Tour Championship in Milton Keynes.
The penultimate event before the World Championship – involving the top eight in the world on the one-year list – begins on Saturday behind closed doors with the final on Friday.
Neil Robertson meets Stephen Maguire in the opening match at the Marshall Arena after Maguire replaced UK champion Ding Junhui, who has opted not to travel from China due to restrictions.
Higgins feels that the month's preparations will allow all of the game's top players to flourish when they get down to business in Sheffield next month.
“This will probably surpass any tournament with the standard you will see. Everybody will be giving it everything for a month solid and put the tough hours in," said Higgins, who first played at the Crucible in 1995 and has lost the last three finals to Mark Selby, Mark Williams and Trump.
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"Everybody will be hungry, there will be nobody tired or jaded. They will all be going in firing on all cylinders. I really think it could be the best tournament standard-wise. Even though we might not have the crowd, I think it could be the best.
"Everything involved adds up to that. Mentally people will be giving it extra, because the event could have been taken away from them. Everyone will be sharp as a tack. It could break all the records in terms of centuries. I definitely think there will be a maximum break.
"There are only a select few players that have made one at the Crucible before. I think the whole situation and the crowd gets on top of you normally at the Crucible. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t one or maybe even two this year.
"The World Championship takes care of itself. It always has done. Whatever has happened during the whole year, everyone gives it that bit extra. It is the biggest tournament and you just give everything for it. Who knows what it will be like if the crowd is empty.
"It will still be a special occasion for every one of the 32 players to walk down those steps. I’d guarantee if you were to do a poll, all 32 of them would have said it wasn’t going to happen this year. We will be lucky players to be there definitely."
Trump is bidding for a record seventh ranking event victory at the Tour Championship and Higgins believes he starts as a strong favourite.
"Judd is the man to beat now. Without a shadow of a doubt. He is world champion and world number one and has broken the record for ranking events in a season with two left to go, so he could add to it. I know I have my work cut out," said the Scotsman.
Tour Championship draw (best of 17 frames)
(All sessions start at 1:30pm and 7pm BST)
Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire (Saturday)
Judd Trump v John Higgins (Sunday)
Mark Selby v Yan Bingtao (Monday)
Shaun Murphy v Mark Allen (Tuesday)
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