Continuing my preview of the new season with a look at the likely prospects of the game's veteran brigade...
There’s something genuinely heart-warming about a great player in any sport, apparently past their prime, coming up on the rails to produce a performance worthy of their heyday.
That’s why Tom Watson’s adventures at the Open last week caught the imagination. At 59, he had been rated a 1,500/1 shot before play began on the first day. As it transpired, he had a putt on the last to win it.
It didn’t go in, of course, and it is rare for a champion of the past to return and recapture former glories in this manner.
Doug Mountjoy did it in snooker in 1988 when he won the UK Championship for a second time, ten years after his first triumph. He went on to win the next ranking event, the Mercantile Classic, as well.
Steve Davis played superbly to reach the 2005 UK final, beating Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry before coming up short against Ding Junhui.
So, what are the prospective fortunes of the game’s elder statesmen next season?
Stephen Hendry has fallen out of the top eight in the world rankings for the first time in 22 years.
Is this significant? Well, the amazing thing is that he was in there for 22 years when so many players have come and gone during the same time. There’s no disgrace being ranked 10th at the age of 40. The question is whether Hendry can climb back up.
He might well do because he is still so driven. He’s not the sort to be content with turning up and receiving grand applause, effectively making up the numbers.
No, when he thinks he can’t compete at the top level any longer he will retire.
Hendry last won one of snooker’s ‘big three’ titles – the world, UK or Masters – ten years ago. His last ranking title came four and a half years ago.
But if he can get some consistency back there’s no reason why he can’t be a winner again. This happened only rarely last season but there were a few signs – not least at the Crucible that he can turn it on for prolonged spells.
Steve Davis, that other great multi-champion of the modern age, starts his 32nd season as a professional at 13th in the provisional rankings. He will be 52 next month.
This old warhorse has stuck around so long because he changed his game and came to rely more on his safety than breakbuilding. There’s no reason why this won’t continue to work. Indeed, I’d argue it has been so effective because of the way snooker has become so open and attacking.
There's not many who can compete with the Nugget in the tactical stakes.
Steve loves snooker. I think you really will have to scrape him off the table and if he’s still on the tour when he’s 60 it wouldn’t be any great surprise. In January, he will have played professional snooker in five different decades.
What of Jimmy White? He starts in 56th place and so is excused one round of qualifying compared to last season.
There are times when he still produces excellent snooker but it’s hard to imagine White ever returning to the top 16. The top 48 is a possibility and so too, at a push, is the top 32. As ever, though, this may just be wishful thinking. I hope not.
John Parrott, I rather suspect, will be the next snooker ‘legend’ to hang up his cue. JP doesn’t need to be going to Prestatyn and has nothing else he wants to accomplish on the table. As he slides down the rankings it must become less and less fun.
Ken Doherty, who is 40 in September, has fallen at an alarming rate. Doherty is now 46th after a wretched season and desperately needs some confidence.
This will only come from winning matches. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started to turn it around now he’s used to the qualifying set up, but it’s a long way back to the top.
Peter Ebdon won seven matches in ranking events last season, five of which were in the China Open, a title which he of course captured.
It was only this that kept him in the top 16, but he had off table problems and he may be more settled going into the new campaign. If anyone is going to make an effort to keep his place in the elite, it’s Ebdon.
Looking at some of the older players, Tony Drago and James Wattana return. The best they can really hope for is to keep their places on the circuit. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
Nigel Bond had a poor season saved by him reaching the last 16 of the World Championship. How much longer can he hold off Old Father Time?
Nobody goes on forever, but the old guard will be determined to go on for as long as they possibly can.