Stephen Hendry could still challenge for snooker trophies because he remains a special talent, says his coach Stephen Feeney.
The seven-times world champion is working hard with Feeney on improving his levels on the practice table after accepting a two-year invitational tour card to return to the main World Snooker Tour circuit.
"I'm looking forward to the journey," said Hendry. "I'll only enter a tournament when I feel my game is ready, when I feel confident I can compete, but when that time comes it is going to be very exciting to see what happens."
Hendry retired in 2012 after growing increasingly exasperated with the dwindling standard of his performances. He endured a seven-year title drought with his last ranking event victory coming at the 2005 Malta Cup before quitting after a 13-2 drubbing by Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals of the World Championship.
The Scotsman has rediscovered his passion for the sport during his eight-year absence and has started working with Feeney, whose celebrated SightRight method helped Mark Williams win a third world title at the age of 43 in 2018 and Ronnie O'Sullivan end a seven-year wait to claim his sixth Crucible title in August.
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At the age of 51, the prospect of Hendry returning to prominence would arguably leave Feeney looking more like a miracle worker than a snooker coach, but he is refusing to put a limit on what the 36-times ranking event winner can achieve on his comeback.
Citing fellow Scot Peter Wright's victory at the age of 49 in the PDC World Darts final earlier this year, Feeney said: "Can we do what Peter Wright did in darts and win the world title at the age of 50? Stephen wouldn’t talk that way. He just loves playing the game. He is deeply competitive though. As the work goes forward, I would hope he would believe that even if it is a small one, there is a chance.
Peter Wright is presented the trophy by Charlotte Emery, William Hill Global Brand and Marketing Director and PDC Chairman Barry Hearn after victory in the Final of the 2020 William Hill World Darts Championship
Image credit: Getty Images
"Just to see him happy in the game we are already winning. He is playing some shots that he has said he couldn’t play before. I think we are adding to the mix that this guy knows how to win," commented the coach speaking to World Snooker Tour.
"The other guys at the top of the game know he knows how to win. If we can do our stuff right and he can carry the same composure out there into matches, people will have a problem on their hands and won’t want to be drawing him in the first round at tournaments. I’ve seen the best at work, close up, and this guy is special.”
O'Sullivan has questioned the decision and believes Hendry will not enjoy the demands of tournament play eight years on, but Feeney feels his critics do not appreciate the levels Hendry reached in claiming world titles in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999.
“There are some top players who will believe Stephen can never win another ranking title again. When people say to me things can’t be done I tend to think, let's have a go. Can he? There is incredible skill there. He is a seven-time World Champion and we will see how the journey evolves," he said.
Hendry has been touted for a return to action at the UK Championship – an event he has won five times that is live on Eurosport next month – but his coach wants him to reach the standard of a top-16 player before he commits to an event.
“I’d be prepared to wait as long as we need to. As long as the conditions are right. If the conditions are right in terms of the venue and the opportunity, as soon as he is ready, we go," insisted Feeney.
"My view with Stephen is that we want to get him back into top-16 status with the standard of his play as soon as possible. That is the only way that we can be comfortable. Every practice session is geared and targeted that way and we are working hard.
“If he was to win another title, or at least if he was to be in the mix at the Crucible. Wouldn’t that be a special thing for the sport? If Stephen making the Crucible again in his career, in his 50s, isn’t special enough for the sport, I don’t know what is.
"If he was to come out and be the player that everybody remembers him for, or even better, wouldn’t that be good.”