John Higgins may not have things all his own way today in the Sanyuan Foods China Open against Fergal O’Brien, who remains a fiercely determined snooker hard man.
O’Brien’s season began so badly – he lost his opening match in the first three ranking tournaments – that by Christmas he had thoughts of dropping off the circuit.
He has since qualified for the Welsh Open, the Crucible and beat Sam Baird 5-2 at Prestatyn to make the trip to Beijing.
The Dubliner joined a running club last year to work on his fitness. So many snooker players are following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s lead in this regard that it may be our sport’s best hope of getting into the Olympics.
“People might be surprised to hear that I’m quite fast,” the methodical Fergal told me.
Higgins won the 1999 China International in Shanghai and was runner-up to Peter Ebdon last year but, generally, he doesn’t fair that well in China.
With the Betfred.com World Championship just around the corner he can be forgiven for having his focus distracted by the defence of his Crucible crown.
All that said, if he plays the sort of snooker he’s produced for the last year then he’ll coast through.
If Higgins reaches the Beijing semi-finals and goes as far at Sheffield he will equal the record for eight successive ranking event semi-finals held jointly by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
Today’s first TV match pits Marco Fu against Bjorn Haneveer. They’ve never played as professionals but, in 1997, Fu beat the Belgian 11-7 to win the IBSF World Under 21 Championship.
The Hong Kong man has had a wretched season in ranking tournaments, winning just one match, in last September’s Shanghai Masters.
However, in the Championship League he was awesome and that’s the sort of form he needs to start producing in the game’s major events to restore some much needed confidence.