Terry Griffiths believes Stephen Hendry will be fired up by being back at the qualifiers.
This in itself is interesting as the minute Griffiths dropped out of the top 16 he chose to retire rather than slog round the anonymous qualifying events after many years as one of the game’s leading players.
He was 49. Hendry is 42. I agree with Terry that Hendry will be motivated. He is a proud man, but this is no guarantee of success.
It’s the first time in 23 years that he hasn’t been a member of the elite group but, as those with long memories will know, not the first time in this period he has had to play qualifiers.
The top 16 used to have to qualify for tournaments outside the UK, although Hendry has not gone through this for some time.
That the UK Championship is first up won’t make much difference. It’s a great event but when you’re not at the venue that means nothing. For everyone it’s a nervy, testing business and Hendry has now joined the ranks of well known faces condemned to endure it.
Who is Stephen Hendry?
He’s a complex man, driven by a desire to succeed that seemed to override every other emotion. He had no interest whatsoever in snooker until his parents bought him a small table one Christmas and yet within a fortnight had made a 50 break.
His manager, Ian Doyle, instilled in him both professionalism and toughness, an attitude which helped Hendry win and also ensured he behaved in a manner befitting a leading sportsman.
The public didn’t always like him due to the monotony of his successes but they admired and respected him. Hendry is the last snooker player to get anywhere near winning BBC Sports Personality of the Year, finishing in the top six in 1999.
In this video, Hendry talks in matter of fact fashion about the greatest career of them all. He was never one to dwell on his triumphs, only ever looking forward. His personal scrapbook of memories must be bulging but it’s clear a few are a genuine source of pride.
He modelled himself on Steve Davis and has been the only player since the Nugget to fully throw himself into life as a snooker professional, with everything that entails.
It’s not just his game or his achievements that make him the greatest, it’s his attitude, which would have stood him in good stead at any point in the sport’s history.
I can’t speak highly enough about his achievements. Some of them are receding into memory, as if they were never that important to begin with, but make no mistake, he was a remarkable player, certainly the best ever under pressure, which is where it really counts.
And Hendry would have been the best in any era because he wanted to be the best. He made the sacrifices necessary to be the best.
There were no off table dramas or distractions. He lived a life consumed by snooker. He played in just about every tournament he could, did loads of exhibitions and built an aura that still stands to this day, even if his form has deteriorated.
His sporting idols are the great winners. He has no time for underdogs and the sentiment that surrounds them.
He took great satisfaction from winning but the trappings of success never overwhelmed him. He was never lazy or content to be, say, a five times world champion when he could be a six times world champion.
Such sportsmen are rare. The majority are happy with any success, and the financial rewards it brings.
Only a few are driven to be even better. And these are the ones who achieve true greatness.
Here’s what Ken Doherty says about Hendry in his new autobiography, Life in the Frame, which gives a good summation of both the player and the man:
“I first met him when he was 14...He understood exactly where he was going and what he was going to achieve in the game. He looked the business and he played sublime snooker even then but he was aloof and he stayed like that to an extent. He wanted to separate himself from everyone else and develop an aura. It’s a great thing to have and it’s the way you’ve got to be to get to the top but it means isolating yourself from everyone else and that’s not something that comes easily to most of us.
“Stephen is the best player I’ve ever played against. At his best, he was awesome, better even than Ronnie O’Sullivan. His long potting and break-building were out of this world and his safety game, when he used it, was strong as well. The only way I could beat him was by breaking him down, playing good match snooker and trying to frustrate him. It felt like you had to hide the cue ball in your pocket to keep him out and stop him scoring. Just when you thought you had him in trouble on the bottom cushion he would pull out a pot from nowhere and make a frame winning break.”
Doherty knows this better than most having been on the receiving end of Hendry’s record seven centuries in the 1994 UK Championship final.
Those days are over. For the 2011 UK Championship, Hendry will have to qualify. He will surely play his match in the main arena at the South West Snooker Academy in Gloucester, which will be a help compared to, say, a tight cubicle in Sheffield with no atmosphere.
But it is still a long, long way from the years of glory when he was the man to beat.
Hendry is still good enough to beat most players on the circuit, however he no longer beats the top players with enough regularity.
Precisely how much longer Hendry has left I wouldn’t want to say. Davis has been written off many times and keeps bouncing back.
Indeed, I remember asking Steve ten years ago if he was going to retire as he had just dropped out of the top 16.
The great man fixed me with an old fashioned look and patiently explained that, actually, he enjoyed playing regardless of his ranking.
I’m not sure Hendry is the same in this respect, but I tend to agree with Ronnie O’Sullivan, who said last week that Hendry needs to change his attitude and, if he can, lighten up a little, not put so much pressure on himself.
After all, he has nothing to prove to anyone.