John Higgins, the four-times world champion, is no stranger to success. But even Higgins, regarded as one of snooker's greatest ever players, has found silverware hard to come by in recent times. Since winning the World Championship at the beginning of May 2011, the 37-year-old has failed to win any of snooker's three major titles – the World, UK Championship or Masters.
And so it is perhaps unsurprising that this year's Masters at London's Alexandra Palace, starting tomorrow and concluding a week later holds extra significance for the player, not least because he has not won the competition for seven years, but more so because he wants to prove that he can still win one of snooker's biggest events.
The longer the drought goes on, the longer the doubts will remain that he might have won his last major.
"This year I feel as if my game is in a better place so I'm excited about it [playing at the Masters]," said Higgins, who marked a welcome return to form by winning the opening Championship League group last week to qualify for the grand finals later in the season.
"My form has been better than last year, but it has still been disappointing to go out early in some of the big events, especially the UK Championship last month.
"I feel as if I have hit the ball well at times. There's still a long way to go this season and a lot of big events coming up. I'm feeling refreshed after having two or three weeks off so I'm looking forward to the rest of the season."
Last year, Higgins got the semi- finals of the Masters, having been eliminated in the first round in four of the five previous seasons. But, despite an excellent run, the world No 3 was beaten 6-4 by Shaun Murphy and his title hopes were ended again. However, the competition – regarded as the most prestigious invitational event on the sport's calendar – holds plenty of fond memories for the Scot, who won the competition in 1999 and 2006.
"Last year I got to the semi-finals and I was 5-4 down to Shaun Murphy. I had a great chance to get to a decider but missed the last pink," said Higgins, who faces Ali Carter in the first round on Monday.
"I missed too many balls during the match and you can't afford to do that if you're going to win the title. But I really enjoyed Ally Pally last year, it's a better venue than Wembley Arena. A bit of the darts atmosphere rubs off on the snooker."
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