John Higgins won the first title of the new season last night, pocketing €25,000 at the European Tour event in Bulgaria for his 4-1 defeat of Neil Robertson.
Higgins played poorly by his high standards at the end of last season but the difference seems to be a new cue.
It was obvious to anyone watching that Higgins has been practising with the new model. He was sharp in all areas of his game.
Throughout his career he has messed around with cues, having alterations made – bits taken off or put on.
You might think a top snooker player could pick up any old piece of wood and play well with it but it doesn’t necessarily work like that because with a cue, particularly a change of cue, comes all manner of psychological issues.
This is why switching cues is a risk. Peter Ebdon did so last season and struggled badly with it before switching back.
Stephen Hendry’s cue was stolen at the 1990 Grand Prix in Reading and he put up a five figure reward for its safe return. He got it back but it was broken beyond repair by airport baggage handlers in 2003 – an ignominious end for one of snooker history’s most famous pieces of equipment – and he was never quite the same again.
Other players will tell you that Hendry’s cue wasn’t much to look at in the first place but that’s not the point: it was his. He used it so much it was like a part of him.
Alain Robidoux found this when his cue was snapped into several pieces by the man who had originally made it. Robidoux had reached the World Championship semi-finals and a career high of ninth in the rankings. He sent the cue off to have slight alterations made to it but the cue-maker took offence at a sponsor’s logo which had been fixed to it and snapped – or rather snapped the cue.
Robidoux did not win a single match the following season. His confidence had been shattered and his career effectively ended.
Shaun Murphy is another player who has changed cues, apparently because his old one – a lovely old cue, by the way – was damaged. Time will tell how he fares with it.
As for the tournament, the sizeable Sofia crowd were rewarded with a high quality line-up on the final day.
The semi-finals saw Higgins beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and Robertson defeat Barry Hawkins.
Once again, the cream rose to the top and the atmosphere was made by the enthusiastic audience, which included many young people.
Next, it’s the first Asian Tour event in Yixing. Let’s hope all the cues make it to China.