Snooker news: Could Stephen Hendry really make a comeback?
Seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry has apparently floated the idea of a return to professional snooker, but is it a realistic possiblity?
Stephen Hendry of Scotland celebrates victory with the trophy after winning the 1999 Embassy World Snooker Championships Final match against Mark Williams of Wales played at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England.
Lockdown might do funny things to the thought process, but it sounds like Hendry was seriously entertaining the idea of returning eight years after quitting in a state of bewilderment and unhappiness over the deterioration of the technique that carried him to a record haul of seven world titles in the 1990s.
Speaking on Instagram with the 1997 world champion Ken Doherty, Hendry, now 51, revealed he has already consulted snooker coach Stephen Feeney, founder of the SightRight method that famously helped 43-year-old Welshman Mark Williams complete a third Crucible triumph in 2018, 15 years after the second of his world titles.
The Scotsman, who shares the record for ranking title wins alongside Ronnie O'Sullivan on 36, has obviously been fraternising with the notion of testing himself in a competitive environment among the sport's elite in what sounds like a sort of 'Fast' Eddie Felson story with snooker balls.
"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," said Hendry, world champion in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999.
"I’d done about half a dozen sessions with him and I was getting quite into it, then obviously this (coronavirus pandemic) has happened.
"Hopefully, praise God if Sheffield is on, if he’s there, he’ll maybe give me a few hits.
He asked me what I wanted from it in the beginning and I just said, I want to enjoy playing snooker, that’s all. The way I was playing, even in the seniors. Not hitting the ball properly, it was just torture really, it’s the last throw of the dice.
"If this thing works out with Feeney, I start to hit the ball properly and get a bit more enjoyment out of playing..
"The world seniors is hopefully going to be on in August. You win that, get in the Champion of Champions, you see what happens there and you never know.
"I’m making no plans, I just want to enjoy playing then see what comes from there."
When did he last play a competitive match?
Hendry last played among the game's elite at the 2012 World Championship. He enjoyed wins over Stuart Bingham (10-4) and John Higgins (13-4) before being thumped 13-2 in the last eight by Stephen Maguire on 2 May 2012. He had battled a mental war against his terminal decline on the table before ending his 27-year career in dire straits.
"It started about 12 years before the end,” Hendry said in a 2018 interview with the Guardian. "Of course it’s psychological and, when you strike a cue ball, you’re supposed to accelerate through the ball. But as you tighten up you end up decelerating. By 2012 my game was shot. You’re sitting on your chair watching players leagues below you play shots you can’t. That destroyed me.”
Stephen Hendry, left, and Steve Davis
Image credit: PA Sport
What are his chances of a successful return?
"You just don't heal that easy unless you're young," the former boxing world champion Sugar Ray Leonard once commented. In snooker, the bruising is all internal.
You would never want to insult the legacy of such a great champion, the Crucible's most prolific winner of all time, but it sounds fanciful in the extreme if the 'Wonder Bairn' is harbouring any ambitions of resurrecting the wonder years.
Hendry did not retire in a state of contentment in 2012, but cut a disillusioned figure as he struggled to recapture the highs which made him such a fearsome competitor in his halcyon days of the 1990s. Hendry last reached a world final in 2002 (losing 18-17 to Peter Ebdon), last won a ranking event in 2005 (the Malta Cup) and last reached a major final in 2006 (losing the UK Championship 10-6 to Ebdon).
Before opting out of the sport to focus on business interests, he had spent several years in the doldrums struggling to hit the ball with any level of consistency with the confidence drain a natural by-product of such ongoing failure.
Of course, much would depend on his own level of expectation. Ken Doherty and Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White, blasts from the potting past, continue to play for the challenge, and still enjoy some decent moments, but both men are well past their pomp in terms of winning or even challenging for titles. Doherty dropped out of the top 16 in 2009 and has never been back. Jimmy White last won a ranking event in 2004.
For Hendry, the genteel sleepy hollow of seniors snooker is even an obstacle (he lost 3-1 to Darren Morgan in the last eight of the latest World Championship). Good luck if he decides his technique perseveres in what is a dramatically more cut-throat environment than the one he left behind in the early part of the last decade.
Never go back would probably be the wisest prognosis unless your own expectation levels are not drowned by the clouds of delusion. For Hendry, there were few harsher critics than himself.
With the World Championships falling victim to coronavirus, Eurosport has , including a new vodcast, which airs every day at 2pm on Eurosport 1. Snooker fans will also be able to enjoy all nine episodes in full in audio form on a new podcast, The Break.