John Higgins believes he could have been a multiple winner of snooker’s greatest prize but for a forgotten handshake.
Higgins won the world title in 1998 and was heavily tipped to complete several more Crucible triumphs in the years that followed.
But the Wishaw ace has managed just one further appearance in the final since his victory nine years ago and has failed to reach the semi-finals since 2001.
And the 31 year-old pinpoints an incident in the 2000 semi-finals against Mark Williams as a major turning point in his Crucible career.
Higgins said: “My biggest regret in snooker was losing 17-15 to Mark in the 2000 semi-finals. I led 14-10 going into the final session and when we got out there to restart, Mark didn’t shake my hand.
“It completely threw me for the whole session. Instead of concentrating on the match and trying to get to 17 frames I was wondering why he did that, even though it was probably just an oversight on his part.
“Who knows where my career would have gone from that point if I’d beaten him? I could have won three or four world titles by now but it’s all in the past now and you have to move on.
“It would mean a great deal to win it again. I sometimes think I’ve put myself under more pressure than I should have done since winning it in ’98.
“If you look at the career I’ve had, I should have won it more than once.”
Higgins starts his 888.com World Championship campaign next Wednesday against Nottingham’s Michael Holt.
He readily admits that he finds practising a chore but is determined to bring home more silverware for sons Pierce, 5, and Oliver, 2 – although they still aren’t quite sure why dad is famous.
He said: “I suppose snooker has become more like a job as I’ve got older but I still enjoy playing the game.
“When you’re younger it’s all new and you can play all day long. These days, when I’m practising I’m on auto-pilot. But I know it’s still important because I’m playing for my family.
“The boys are still too young to understand what it’s all about. Sometimes when I drop Pierce off at school people say ‘there’s John Higgins’ and he gets embarrassed.
“He asked me the other day why people at school said I was ‘the Wizard of Wishaw.’
“It’s something to be proud of that in a couple of years he’ll understand. He’ll be able to look at the videos. It’s nice to have something like that to show the kids
“I’m still proud that my dad played for Motherwell reserves and had some games with the first team. It’s good that I’ll have that with my own sons.”
This time last year, Higgins headed to Sheffield as many experts’ tip for the title after enjoying a hugely successful season in which he reached four finals.
But the current campaign has been largely disappointing, with the former Masters and UK champ winning only two matches since the turn of the year.
Higgins said: “You look forward to the Crucible so much. It’s the pinnacle of the snooker calendar. I was out before it had started last year and that was disappointing.
“Michael Holt’s a good player but if I play well I’m confident of winning. I could have had a tougher draw and I could have had an easier one, but it’s all about how I play.
“I know less people are talking about me winning it this year but I feel I’m coming back to form in myself. I’d love to predict what’s going to happen and say I’m going to do this or that but its all on the day.”
Higgins reckons he’ll have to hit top form to stop defending champ and practice partner Graeme Dott, who recently won the China Open, from walking away with the famous silver trophy again.
He said: “Graeme’s the favourite in my eyes. I don’t care what anyone says, he’s playing the best of anyone.
“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves but that fires him up. People can say what like but those in the know realise how good he is.”
This article first appeared in today's Scottish Sun