As great champions do, John Higgins raised his game when the pressure was on to see off Matthew Stevens in what turned out to be a very interesting first day encounter at the 888.com World Championship.

Having seen his 7-2 lead reduced to just 7-5, Higgins fired in breaks of 75, 120 and 103 to win 10-5. It was reminiscent, as he himself said, of his finish against Mark Selby in last year's Crucible final.

Few have tipped John to win the title this year. Then again, few tipped him to win it last year.

He hasn't practised as hard as he usually would this season but, like a student cramming for exams, has been putting the hours in at the Craigpark Masters in Glasgow these last three weeks.

If he hits top form in Sheffield he could well land a third world title. Ask the other players and many, if not most, would say he is a better all round player than Ronnie O'Sullivan when at his best.

When Higgins won the title in 1998, I assumed, as did many others, he would be a three, four or even five time winner.

That's not what's happened so far and, as he told me himself in an interview for the Sunday Herald, time is not on his side, even though he's still only 32.

“I’m capable of winning the world title again but I know time is running out,” Higgins said. “I’ll have to do it in the next few years because it gets harder as you get older.

“You look at Jimmy White. Four years ago he won the Players Championship, now he’s almost off the tour. Mark Williams looks like losing his top 16 place and for a while was in danger of falling out of the top 32, which would have been ridiculous because just a few years ago he held the game’s top four titles. It just shows how quickly it can all disappear.”

Who is to say that, now safely through what looked like a tricky opening round encounter, Higgins can't become the first player in 12 years to successfully defend the greatest snooker prize of them all?

(There is a full account of the first day's play here)

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