UK Snooker Championship
Venue: Telford International Centre Date: 4-12 December
Coverage: Live action and highlights on BBC Two and BBC Red Button; updates and reports on BBC Radio 5 live and live coverage on this website.
Full details of BBC coverage
Higgins hits century in comeback match
By Mark Ashenden
BBC Sport at the UK Championship
Would there be boos? Would players refuse to shake his hand? Would his reception be as frosty as the ice and fog smothering Telford at the UK Championship?
No, no and certainly no. John Higgins made his UK comeback at the weekend after a six-month ban for not reporting an approach over match-fixing, and a better line of questioning may have been better directed at his capability to sink balls.
The three-time world champion roared out of the blocks on Saturday with two centuries in his first-round clash with Stephen Lee before being pegged back to 4-4.
The cheers continued on Sunday though as Higgins battled to a 9-6 victory despite a pair of 137 breaks from his opponent.
It was an impressive show from a player who didn't grasp a cue for five months while disciplinary proceedings were hanging over him, and the compliments flowed.
If something is going to be taken away and you don't have anything after that, then it's like you have a second chance
"Fantastic" said 1991 world champion John Parrott, analysing the match for BBC television. Steve Davis, the last man to play Higgins in a major tournament with his stunning 13-11 win at the World Championships in April, described it as "business as usual".
"That's his office," the six-time world champion added. "And that's what he does."
After breaks of 99, 87, 64 and 80
had helped him to victory over Lee,
the world number 18, the Scot said: "I'm delighted to get over the line. It was good to be back playing in a big tournament.
"It was good to feel the nerves in that situation because that's what I've always lived for. Everyone has been fine with me and it's enjoyable to be among the other players and doing what I love."
The 'Wizard of Wishaw' had likened his return to competition last month to going to the dentist.
But winning his first event back, the Euro Players Tour Championship in Hamm, Germany, and finishing runner-up in Prague the following week would have helped the nerves and built confidence for his return to the big arena. Not to mention a bear hug from Malta's finest Tony Drago to cap a warm welcome from the players.
Speaking to fans of the sport and fans of Higgins, along with players, officials and commentators, in Telford over the last three days, it appears the Scot has returned to a sea of open arms and a chorus of noisy support.
Only eight months ago on the day of the World Championship final, his name was splashed across every newspaper and TV news channel amid claims of match-fixing. Everybody was shocked, and his future hung on a decision inside a London court in September.
A £75,000 fine and a backdated suspension followed and for all the smoothness that Higgins appears to be showing in readjusting to life on the baize again, it is a career that could easily have been stripped from him. He knows it only too well.
After defeating Lee to set up a second-round clash with practice partner Graeme Dott, a reflective Higgins was asked if he had been concerned about not competing again.
"Of course," the 35-year-old said. "You just thank God I'm back playing again.
Higgins cut a reflective figure during his win over Lee
"If something is going to be taken away and you don't have anything after that, then it's like you have a second chance.
"I'm not saying I shouldn't have had that chance, but it can make you put more effort into practice. I'll be practising, going to tournaments, and nothing else really."
During his enforced absence, Higgins had to watch world champion Neil Robertson usurp him at the top of the rankings.
The Scot wants his number one status back, along with more trophies, but this isn't just a story of a sportsman who reaches the top, falls from his perch, and bounces back to win again.
Here is a man with added fuel to an already burning desire to win because of his father, also John, who has been fighting cancer for five years.
Ahead of the UK Championship, Higgins junior reflected on whether his recent troubles were connected with his dad's state of health.
"I'd love to win something for him," he said. "Whenever you have finals, the Higgins clan are there, but he can't come to Telford. Sometimes when you're lying in bed and you're struggling to sleep, you ask yourself 'Is this the reason why my dad is so ill?'"
A break can freshen the mind and he seems more determined...There is still plenty of good years left in John Higgins
With three children and a hugely supportive wife Denise, who regularly travels to tournaments, family clearly means everything to Higgins.
According to long-time friend and rival Ken Doherty, the six-month suspension could actually have helped Higgins deal with his personal problems.
"You can always pick up a cue but when you have these emotions and turmoil in your life, then maybe the break wasn't a bad thing," said the 1997 world champion and BBC pundit.
"After all that's he been through, he's been given a second chance and an inspiration to get his head down and concentrate on playing. A break can freshen the mind and he seems more determined and seems to have isolated himself.
"Having trouble away from the table gets your mind drifting when you're sat in the chair and that's when you lose concentration. This game is all about the mind and confidence, and any interruptions can cause you to lose focus and miss easy shots."
So what does the future hold for Higgins?
On the table, all seems relatively rosy. His break-building skills and dogged tactics appear remarkably undiminished. Practice partner Dott awaits in the next round. And his world ranking has already improved to number two because of his recent efforts around Europe.
The machinations of his mind may be the main factor that directs Higgins' snooker destiny over the remainder of his career.
"There is still plenty of good years left in John Higgins," Doherty added. "The question is how the last seven months is going to affect him. Having seen him in action recently, it seems it hasn't affected him that much.
"But it's not easy. It is just admirable the way he has played to maintain the standard he had last season."