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'His technique just completely changed' - Robertson discusses Hendry's final farewell

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Neil Robertson and Stephen Hendry during the 2011 Masters.

Image credit: Eurosport

ByDesmond Kane
22/05/2020 at 06:52 | Updated 22/05/2020 at 07:52

Neil Robertson's 6-3 win over a struggling Stephen Hendry at the 2011 Masters was the seven-time world champion's final match at the event, but what was behind his demise?

Practice makes imperfect.

Neil Robertson is not Nostradamus of the nap, but he saw enough of what proved to be Stephen Hendry's final Masters appearance at Wembley Arena in 2011 to know that the seven-time world champion was not heading towards the Palace of Wisdom. Not even the Alexandra Palace.

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Despite hours committed to arresting the slide, the Scotsman was not ranked highly enough to qualify for the elite invitational at the Ally Pally a year later.

When Robertson lifted the title, Hendry had tumbled out of the world's top 16 in a snooker state of torpor. It was the first time he had missed the Masters in 23 years, but was to prove to be a sign of permanent decay.

Ranked at 23 in the world, a forlorn Hendry was forced to qualify for the World Championship in 2012 for the first time since 1988, but there would not be a long attempt to salvage his golden 27-year career.

At the age of 43, the 'Wonder Bairn' retired on May 2, 2012 after being filleted 13-2 by the 2004 UK champion and fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in the Crucible quarter-finals, disgusted and dejected by his fall from prominence.

Robertson was defending world champion when he overcame Hendry 6-3 on January 12, 2011 in the first round of the Masters, unaware that it would be the final fateful match Hendry would ever play at an event he won six times, including a record five in a row between 1989 and 1993.

Stephen Hendry during his final appearance at the Masters.

Image credit: Eurosport

"He didn't put me away and he should have been up 3-1," said Robertson in a media conference afterwards. "He doesn't have the same aura as he used to. It's like watching a completely different player - technically he has a lot of flaws."

It was a brutal summing up, but one which was searingly honest. Robertson recalls the match vividly, but reveals he had noticed for some time the change in Hendry's cue action.

The impregnable delivery that brought Hendry a record seven titles at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield between 1990 and 1999 encouraged a lack of certainty and conviction in his play.

"I noticed it for quite a while," world number two Robertson tells Eurosport.

"You look at his cue action in the 1990s compared to his last few years: the pause, the feathering, it was all completely different.

"His cue. The positioning of his cue compared to where it finished up. It was almost under his right eye at the end.

"I spoke to a few players about it. I remember Stephen Maguire said he used to tweak things even when he was at his best.

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"If you make tiny changes in your technique, it gives you the motivation to practice that bit more.

"That can be very, very dangerous as well if you start tinkering around too much.

"There have been plenty of world-class golfers who have tinkered too much and they disappear off the PGA Tour because they can't go back to their original technique. It is very, very dangerous to do that sort of thing.

"His technique just completely changed."

Hendry, who revealed in 2010 he had been suffering from the dreaded 'yips' for a decade, has been attempting to rediscover some of his old form by consulting the SightRight coach Stephen Feeney in order to at least enjoy playing seniors snooker.

"I’ve been doing a wee bit with Stephen Feeney and I’ve started to get a bit of pleasure from hitting the ball back," he said recently.

Robertson suggests Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams, the sport's class of '92 with 12 world titles between them, have remained competitive for over three decades because they did not tamper with what worked best for them.

Ultimately their techniques have been buffeted but unbroken by the passage of time.

The Melbournian is adamant snooker and golf place more pressure on the individual's technique because unlike tennis you are attempting to hit a static ball.

"Somebody like Ronnie O'Sullivan not so much, John Higgins not so much, Mark Williams a little bit here and there, but ultimately still the same," said Robertson.

"Snooker and golf have to be the most technically difficult sports in the world. I can't think of any other that is so much down to technique.

"Snooker is different from tennis because you are hitting a still ball. You've got to be so accurate all the time.

"That is what makes snooker and golf so great and the most addictive sports to get involved in as an individual because you can work on them by your self.

"There aren't a lot of sports you can work on by yourself which makes it so challenging.

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"In football, you might be able to compare it to taking a penalty. You see how mentally tough they when they take a penalty under pressure.

"My game has changed and improved massively since I won the World Championship, but you have to be so careful with your technique."

Hendry's long kiss goodbye might have sounded brief, but when you consider he won only a solitary ranking event in his final seven years in the sport, it was a steady decline towards the despairing hinterland of a snooker champion's final concession.

Desmond Kane

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