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.


Anonymous said...

regarding Hendry i totally agree unlike Davis who is contented with turning up and the challange of taking frames off the top players hendry still has desires to be the best once again and he will not be contented with where steve davis is when he is 50...if he feels he cant compete at the top and win he wont bother trying.

Janie Watkins said...

My tip to do the best of the "oldies" this season is Jimmy.

He seems to be undertaking a relentless practice regime ready for the season.

When asked what facilities or entertainment he'd like for a recent exhibition visit in Belgium, he said "give me a table" I want to practice.

He's by passed the English Open this week to put more practice time in before the start of the Pro Season.

Let's hope for Jimmy and his army of fans that it pays off.

Anonymous said...

surprised nobody has mentione s maguire and his driving being in todays news....

Anonymous said...

jimmy whont do anything much...

i doubt he will reach a venue.

jamie brannon said...

Wattana could be hampered now though by this swine flu if he is not fit for the Shanghai qualifiers then he is playing catch up immediately. Is Hendry going to give up when he cant compete at the top level, the stats show he cant win events now but he still perseveres. I think Davis has done well to be where he is though as he is accepting that he is no longer a tournament winner.

Anonymous said...

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A secret is wasted if not shared
Dear Dave
How are you. The principle reason why the four lads you mentioned have lost it with many others is the fact that all players practice there faults.
No player can deny that they practice faults as snooker players dont know themselves what they are doing right and doing wrong.

The first player that can explain the reason why he is still at the table and the reason why he is often in his chair will be a continious champion.

The game is dominated by Practice, habits and FORM. The worst of these is FORM an imposter like Lady Luck it cant be detaied practiced nor recalled.

Habits good and bad are equal and faults are not always unsuccessful shots. Mr hey you

John (Fine Mess Method) said...

He might not reach a venue this season, but if he consistently gets to the last 48 (especially in the big events), would that be enough to push him back into the world top 48?

The next oldies to drop off the tour will be Parrott (either this season or next), and David Roe. I have a felling that Nigel Bond will turn things around and Doherty will at least not fall any further.

Of the returning veterans, I think Wattana will surprise people and do well, but Drago won't survive - I think inconsistency will do him in, in that I can see him making some progress in the best-of-9 sprints, but he will falter in the longer matches such as the UK and Worlds that are vital for him to win.

John Self said...

I remember seeing one of those Q&A sessions that Davis and Parrott do on TV during the world championships, and a viewer asked why snooker players drop down the rankings as they get older, even though it's not a sport that requires high physical fitness (at least not in comparison with football and the like).

Davis answered that it was simply because, in your 30s or 40s, you don't have the desire to spend 8 hours a day on the practice table the way you do when you're in your teens or twenties: you find other things in life to do. Young players keep coming up not because they're physically much fitter, but because they've still got that hunger.

Chris Turner said...

Dave Harold is another 40+ still going as strong as ever and Joe Swail will shortly join the over club. I thing there must be more of them on the tour now than for many years.