JOHN HIGGINS fears his days of competing at the sharp end of snooker could be at an end.
The 37-year-old Scot, a four-time winner, yesterday suffered a miserable first-round exit at the World Championship as he tumbled to a 10-6 defeat against qualifier Mark Davis.
With his hopes over for another 12 months, Higgins reflected on a tough couple of years since he last lifted the trophy in Sheffield.
And he admitted that doubts are creeping up on him, with demons in his game that were absent when he was as dominant a figure as any player has been in the last 15 years.
Sussex potter Davis turned an overnight 6-3 lead into a handsome victory over the man who triumphed at the Crucible in 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011.
The 40-year-old also defeated Higgins at the UK Championship in December, and aside from landing the Shanghai Masters title last September, this has been a grim campaign for the Wishaw man.
"You just miss certain shots and you don't know how you're missing them. I could really ask other people who have won lots of tournaments," Higgins said.
"I know you can't put it down to age because Mark Davis is certainly playing as well as he's ever played and he's in his 40s.
"Maybe it's that he's never really been at the business end of tournaments to get the grey hairs that I've got.
"That might be one of the reasons, but anything half difficult out there I was missing and that was just putting the pressure on me.
"I don't want to sound big-headed to say that the likes of Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis are the only ones I could talk to, but they have continually been competing at the business end of tournaments for 20 years and it might just take its toll on you."
Davis clinched his place in the second round with a closing break of 87 and will be looking to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in a career that has only taken off lately. If Davis extends his run, he could face defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarter-final.
Thai newcomer Dechawat Poomjaeng fluffed his entrance in comic fashion. But missing the players' tunnel for his walk-out and then marching to the wrong table was no indication of what was to come, as the 34-year-old soon threatened to cause a major shock against Stephen Maguire, a semi-finalist last year.
He built a 5-3 lead at the end of the opening session. He is the third player from Thailand to appear at the Crucible, after James Wattana and Tai Pichit.
Sheffield-based Poomjaeng said: "It's only the second year for me on tour and to be at the Crucible is very nice.
"James Wattana is like a big brother to me. We live in the same house – five Thai players in the same place. He's been like a teacher."
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