The 2021 Gibraltar Open – Day 2

On Monday, WST announced that Ronnie, John Higgins and Amine Amiri had withdrawn. Amine Amiri has not played in any recent events; it transpired on social media that he had other things on his mind.

AmineAmiriWedding

Wishing Yousra and Amine the very best for their future together and loads of happiness. Yousra Matine is a snooker player as well. 

Life coming in the way of snooker 😉

Yesterday WST announced to Greame Dott had withdrawn as well and was replaced in the draw by Dylan Emery.

Now onto yesterday’s action… that was mainly about Stephen Hendry’s return of course.

Stephen was beaten by 4-1 by Matthew Selt. Matthew played really well and didn’t give Stephen many occasions. Only once he left him a clear chance and Stephen made a century of it: the number 776.

Here is the report by WST:

Selt Downs Hendry On Return

Hendry spent nine years away from the professional circuit, having retired in 2012.

Former Indian Open champion Matthew Selt defeated seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry 4-1 on the Scot’s long awaited return to the professional circuit at the BetVictor Gibraltar Open.

Legendary 36-time ranking event winner Hendry retired from professional snooker after the 2012 World Championship, but accepted the offer of an invitational tour card this season and this evening marked his first game back after nine years away from the sport he once dominated.

Hendry showed signs of his brilliant best during a superb break of 107 to draw level at 1-1. It was the 776th century of Hendry’s illustrious career.

With the eyes of the snooker world fixed on tonight’s opening round tie, Selt lived up to the pressure against his close friend and now leads Hendry 2-1 in their head-to-head record. The Essex cueman missed precious little in the encounter and was devastating from long range.

After being pegged back to 1-1, Selt composed runs of 65 and 50 to take the third frame and go 2-1 ahead. He then moved one from the win, before making breaks of 41 and 42 to seal victory.

Hendry now turns his attention to World Championship qualifying, where he will be aiming to earn a trip back to snooker’s Theatre of Dreams in April. Selt now faces Barry Hawkins in round two.

“I felt quite good out there. I felt relaxed, as I was nervous in my room putting my suit on and getting ready to come down,” said 52-year-old Hendry.

“I didn’t miss any easy balls which was nice. When I’ve been playing seniors and things I’ve been missing balls all over the place. The century break was obviously the highlight. There are things to work on, long potting wasn’t there and a couple of my safeties were a bit loose.

“I am happy that when I had a chance I scored. That is what snooker is all about these days, scoring when you get the chance. Right now my game isn’t ready to qualify for the Crucible, but a month ago I wouldn’t have even competed in this match. It is steadily improving.

“I’ve seen all of the attention on social media and the press about my comeback. It has been built up quite heavily. Even though there were no people there, there was an atmosphere. I have to pay credit to my opponent, because I thought Matt played brilliantly tonight.”

Selt said: “I am very happy with how I handled the situation. I said it before the game, I’ve not played that many matches in my life with that much pressure to perform. I didn’t feel nearly as much pressure in India as in that game.

“I’m fully aware of what I can do, otherwise I wouldn’t be playing this game. I haven’t done it often in front of the TV cameras. The amount of pressure and attention on that game substituted for the lack of a crowd. I’m very happy with how I played. There have been numerous occasions in my career where I choked. I’m happy to say that. I’m 35 now and I’m hoping I am slowly turning a corner.

“It was a fantastic break in the second frame. I left him in, but there were only three of four reds out. I don’t want people to think I’m taking the mick, but I am delighted to see him make a century and get himself in the match. It was the second frame back after nine years and he showed what he can do.”

Elsewhere, three-time World Champion Mark Selby kept his hopes of earning the £150,000 BetVictor European Series bonus alive with a 4-1 win over Sam Craigie. The bumper payout is awarded to the player who amasses the most prize money across the series. Only Selby, Judd Trump and Jordan Brown remain in contention at this week’s concluding event.

Mark Williams defeated Li Hang 4-1, while Jimmy White battled back from 3-1 down to defeat Joe O’Connor 4-3.

Jimmy White did come back from 3-0 down actually and scored breaks of 75, 74, 54 and 90 in the last four frames of the match! Ken Doherty was another veteran who did well yesterday: He beat Matthew Stevens by 4-3.

On the other hand there were a number of disappointing results for younger players.

Lyu Haotian was beaten by Andrew Higginson, by 4-3, and finds himself provisionally 60th on the end-of-season rankings, too close to the relegation zone for comfort, with just one event to play in before the World qualifiers.

Luo Honghao lost by 4-2 to Barry Hawkins. Currently he’s still in the “top 8 in the one year list not otherwise qualifying to stay on tour”, but in 7th position, which is precarious. He has qualified for the secound round of the WST Pro Series, winning his group in the first round, and he needs to do well there really.

Jackson Page lost by 4-3 to Elliott Slessor, from 2-0 and 3-1 up. As it stands he’s set to be relegated and has only the World Qualifiers to look forward to.

One young player who did well is Zhao Jianbo who demolished Noppon Saengkham, beating him 4-0 with breaks of 62, 61, 76 and 87. That’s impressive! Zhao is in his first year as a pro. There were also wins for Chen Zifan, Chang Bingyu and Zhao Xintong.

 

 

 

Ahead of Stephen Hendry’s match tonight

A few interesting things  …

Steve Feeney speaking to Phil Haigh about the work he’s doing with Stephen Hendry:

Stephen Hendry’s coach explains remarkable rebuilding process: ‘The work he’s doing his exceptional’

Stephen Hendry
Stephen Hendry makes his long-awaited return on Tuesday (Picture: WST)

Stephen Hendry is producing ‘exceptional’ work on the practice table and is showing plenty of signs of his old self ahead of his return to professional snooker, says his coach and major player in his comeback, Stephen Feeney.

Hendry plays his first professional match since 2012 on Tuesday night when he takes on Matt Selt in the first round of the Gibraltar Open, finally capitalising on the two-year wildcard he was handed at the start of the season.

The 52-year-old has been out of the game for a long time and practiced very little for much of that spell, so there is great intrigue over where his skills stand in 2021.

The seven-time world champion has been working with Feeney and his SightRight methods for over a year now and has been given the confidence to compete once again, with the ultimate goal of a sensational return to the Crucible.

Feeney’s method is based around sighting the ball correctly, which is surprisingly something that many players do not do with some inadvertently aiming to miss pots as they are incorrectly aligned.

He has worked successfully with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and Dave Gilbert and believes he is managing to ‘put the pieces back together’ of the old Stephen Hendry.

The Scot famously suffered with the yips at the end of his previous spell on tour, but Feeney believes this was down to technical issues that crept into his game that he is capable of fixing.

‘I think it’s fair to say Stephen would score his game 1/10 when he came to me,’ Feeney told Metro.co.uk.

‘We’ve worked on everything around his alignment, his cue action, a lot of things in dealing with perfect sighting alignment, educating the eyes to do the right thing and aim in the right way then certain things build automatically behind that.

‘If you imagine picking up a gun and you’re off-line, if you fire to hit the target, however you’re holding that gun you’re technique is going to move that gun because instinctively you know you’re missing. So when someone’s off-line and badly off-line, you get a lot of movement.

‘Stephen has always known that he had a view of his yips. I put it down to certain technical things that started to happen. I believe he went off-line, technical things crept in and we had a seven-time world champion missing.

‘Some people said it was because he was losing and all sorts of things, but you don’t just become a bad player overnight. If you’re a great player you’ve got to do something wrong and persistently wrong for things to happen.

‘It could even be something as simple as someone putting on weight and losing their natural sighting line, You can suddenly get someone who is used to potting balls at leisure to someone who starts to miss and feel vulnerable.

‘If you’re missing because of technical errors, then that becomes a mental issue but it’s secondary. You lose confidence because you’re missing, so I go to the root problem.’

Betfred.com World Snooker Championship
Hendry’s last game as a pro was a World Championship quarter-final defeat to Stephen Maguire nine years ago (Picture: Getty Images)

Feeney is supremely confident that Hendry’s problems of nearly a decade ago have been cured and the confidence issues that saw him leave the sport have been solved.

Not to say that Hendry will come out firing from ball one on Tuesday night, looking like he could win an eighth world title, but his game has been put back together to reach a point at which he can compete.

‘If there’s anything going wrong technically, a typical character like Stephen will ultimately back off from the game, which is what he did because he couldn’t see how to put things right. But now he’s back he’s beginning to see a different story,’ said Feeney.

‘Back in 2012 lots of things were going on, he made his decision to retire and we’re now in a situation where if he brings 1/10 to me I can put it back together with him as long as he’s got the heart and the drive.

‘His eyes are okay, there’s nothing physically stopping him playing a great game of snooker. The confidence level will start to improve and his composure with match practice will start to improve because he’ll start to trust himself more.

‘I won’t give a score where he is at the minute, but his own comments are that his cue action is better than it was 10 years ago. People kind of pigeonhole me through SightRight to only perfect sighting alignment, but I coach across the whole game.

‘Stephen is learning the ability to strike the ball in a better way and we’re having a fun time and putting in hard work.’

Feeney has worked with a number of top players, not just in snooker but also in golf and darts, and has come across all sorts of different types of students.

However people take to his methods, Feeney always aims to prove what he is doing by allowing his students to do things they have never done before, something that Hendry is finding himself, even at 52-years-old.

‘Stephen just listened and got on with it,’ Feeney said of Hendry’s learning style. ‘Mark [Williams] was the same. You might have another player who asks loads of questions, wants to know the ins-and-outs and detail.

‘With Ronnie…Stephen and Ronnie are two completely different characters to work with in sessions. My job in each and every session is to show them that perhaps they can do things that they weren’t able to do before.

Ronnie-Feeney
Feeney and O’Sullivan have worked closely in recent years (Picture: SightRight.co.uk)

‘If you’re always raising the bar in their skillset and ability, that creates a different belief in them. “Wow I never used to be able to do that. I’m the seven-time world champion and I never used to be able to do that!”

‘If I said to you, there could be a lot of people that look at Stephen and think, “that’s the same old Stephen.” He’s learned to trust himself with the SightRight methods, to trust himself with the cue action that we’ve built, that we’ve put back together again. I’ve done this with dart players, learning to trust becomes very, very important.’

We saw the first flashes of the new/old Hendry at the World Seniors Championship last August when he reached the semi-final before losing to Jimmy White.

His old rival is as intrigued as anyone to see how he gets on in his comeback and has even been down to help him practice, along with another former World Championship final foe, Ken Doherty.

‘He didn’t play well against Jimmy but I believe that’s a long way away now,’ said Feeney. ‘He’s enjoying playing practice partners, Jimmy’s been down to play him, Ken’s been down to play him. He wants to play.

Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White
Hendry and White have been in the practice room together (Picture: Getty Images)

‘I’m not going to say that he’s going to get a bloody nose in Gibraltar at all, but it’s mostly about Stephen getting back in there, finding some composure and enjoying competing.

‘When he played Jimmy White there was just a little lack of composure there, but some of the stuff he’s doing in practice and the work we’ve done on his cue action is exceptional.

‘We know where we’re at, we know what could happen. The most important thing is he goes out there and enjoys it, enjoys the pressure. Pressure is a perspective, but he’s got to enjoy being there and then that readies us for the World Championship qualifiers.’

If Hendry is to return to the Crucible this year he will have to come through every round of qualifying as he sits at the bottom end of the rankings ahead of his return.

Turning up in Milton Keynes this week for the Gibraltar Open is all about getting the match sharpness back in preparation for that task.

‘He needs the race, needs the competitive game to sharpen him up under pressure,’ said Feeney. ‘It’s a completely different world out there, you can play people in practice but it’s never the same until you get under the lights, it really isn’t.

‘Gibraltar is a case of go out, enjoy it, come what may. If he goes deep into this tournament, maybe very deep…come what may.

‘It’s not that we’ve got no expectation, I’ve got every expectation but I also understand we’re playing best of seven, someone could rattle off a few big breaks. Stephen could do that to Matt, Matt could do that to Stephen in a best of seven.’

World Snooker Championship - Day Seventeen
Steve Feeney helped Mark Williams to his incredible 2018 World Championship win (Picture: Getty Images)

Feeney also coaches Selt, with Stephen and Matt being close friends, which makes the comeback match all the more interesting.

Playing a good pal might just relax Hendry a bit on his return, although both men will know they will never hear the end of it if they lose.

‘I just said to Matt, “it’s a huge privilege, I bet you feel honoured” and he does,’ said the coach. ‘It’s historic, in a way. The first person to play Stephen Hendry coming back on tour.

‘At the end of the day one of them is going to lose and it’ll be street cred, it’ll be all the things that come with it, the banter that will go on and the stories that will be told, but I think Matt feels quite privileged to be the first person to play him.

‘I said to Matt, “all I want to see is you both playing to your best, because you’ll both come off the table happy.” If you don’t leave anything out there then you can’t have anything to moan about.’

No one knows what is going to happen when Hendry gets out there, back into the intense pressure of the professional game, but Feeney is adamant that his legacy is not on the line.

The Scot cannot destroy the immense achievements he has made in the game, in fact he cannot even damage them in the slightest, whatever happens from here on in.

Not that Feeney is expecting that to be a problem, with the coach envisaging plenty of success for the seven-time world champ.

‘Some people are worried about losing his legacy but there’s no reason that his legacy would be anything but completely intact,’ he said. ‘The courage for him to do what he’s doing is exceptional.

‘Stephen wants to really enjoy the game and with the competitive instinct in him, if he’s enjoying the game and learning to win again then we have a man who is back.’

And Desmond Kane’s about Matt Selt’s view on Hendry’s mindset …

GIBRALTAR OPEN: ‘STEPHEN HENDRY WANTS TO PROVE HE’S THE GREATEST’ – MATTHEW SELT ON KING’S RETURN>/h2>

Stephen Hendry returns to competitive action after a nine-year absence against close friend Matthew Selt. The pair meet in the first round of the Gibraltar Open LIVE on Eurosport at 7pm on Tuesday as seven-times world champion Hendry attempts to recapture former glories. For Selt, the friends reunited clash represents the biggest match of his career.

Hendry Selfie.jpg

Desmond Kane

“He’s only got one friend in the world, and that’s me,” jokes a mirthful Matthew Selt ahead of meeting his old mucker Stephen Hendry in snooker’s most eagerly anticipated comeback story of this or any other year.

Selt’s sportive mood will give way to a rather more serious outlook on Tuesday night when he confronts the seven-times world champion over the best of seven frames at the Gibraltar Open. Hendry is brimming with anticipation more than expectation. Yet when you boast such a glorious back catalogue, there is always room to dream. Daring to dream is no bad thing when you once regally lorded it over the old green baize’s land of hope and glory and then some.

Despite sport being forced behind closed doors due to the pandemic, the man dubbed the ‘King of the Crucible’ for his heavy-scoring domination of snooker in the 1990s returns with more fanfare in Milton Keynes than Elvis Presley at Burbank in 1968.

While the King of Rock and Roll spent seven years away from public performance, the king of pot and roll will bring an end to a nine-year absence that will greeted by snooker diehards with more expectancy than John Virgo doing his Hurricane Higgins impression back in the day.

“If I start to play well then the expectation will build and I’ll want to win more,” commented Hendry.

ONE OF THE REASONS I RETIRED WAS BECAUSE I COULDN’T WIN ANY MORE. I HAVE TO CONTROL THOSE EXPECTATIONS. I’M HITTING THE BALL BETTER IN PRACTICE THAN I WAS WHEN I RETIRED.

This will be Hendry’s first competitive match on the main World Snooker Tour since he was annihilated 13-2 by fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals of the 2012 World Championship, a fairly gruesome epilogue to such a gilded 27-year career

He admitted it was a “relief” to retire as his once pristine game descended into a state of torpor with mechanical and psychological failure rendering him a yesterday’s man before it was time to let go.
Being forced to qualify for the Crucible in the death throes of his career was the final ignominy.

“It felt degrading. That’s no disrespect to other players, but I had owned the Crucible for a decade with seven wins and two finals,” he said.

‘SNOOKER WORLD WILL TUNE IN’

At the age of 52, he sports a telling beard these days, but is hardly an elder statesmen in a sport that has just witnessed the evergreen John Higgins produce the grandest form of his life in rampaging to the Players Championship with an astonishing 10-3 final filleting of the world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. Both men seem to just be getting warmed up in their 40s.

“The whole snooker world will tune in,” said Higgins of Hendry. “Who knows what will happen? It will be interesting.

STEPHEN IS OBVIOUSLY EXCITED. IT’S THE WORST POSSIBLE MATCH FOR MATT SELT BECAUSE THEY ARE MATES AND I IMAGINE THERE WILL BE A LOT OF BANTER AND TEXT MESSAGES BEFOREHAND.

Selt – the world number 25 from Romford – speaks every day to Hendry having become friends with the Scot during the 2009 Shanghai Masters. Being part of the king’s comeback special represents the biggest showpiece occasion of his career.
“When the draw came out, I thought: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’,” he told Eurosport. “It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been really excited about playing a game.

“During this lockdown, we’ve been very lucky to still be able to play, but every tournament feels like the same.

IN MY CAREER, WHICH HAS BEEN PRETTY LONG AND NOT PRETTY LUCRATIVE, IT’S PROBABLY THE BIGGEST MATCH I’VE PLAYED.

“To be able to have that opportunity to be part of something so special. I feel very lucky to be playing this match.”

Selt last locked cues with Hendry in the last 16 of the 2011 Australian Open in Victoria when he enjoyed a 5-1 win in the last 16, but could have been the last man to face him before he headed off to his potting shed the first time around.

“I played him in Bendigo a decade ago, but I should have been the last player to play him before he retired,” he said. “I lost to Yu Delu at the 2012 World Championship before Stephen beat him to qualify for Sheffield.

“If I had beaten Yu Delu it would have been me and Stephen in the last round of qualifiers for the worlds.

BACK THEN AND BEING FRIENDS WITH HIM, I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE THE PLAYER WHO PLAYED HIM IN HIS LAST MATCH BECAUSE THE OPPORTUNITY WAS THERE. BUT TO BE THE PERSON WHO PLAYS HIM IN HIS FIRST MATCH BACK IS JUST AS SPECIAL.

“It’s all very weird that the draw has come out like this. It was 127-1 that we played each other.

“It’s a very strange coincidence, but one we will both be grateful for.
“It’s good for him to come back and play someone he knows so well. Hopefully he can settle and get into some sort of rhythm.

I’D RATHER WE HAVE A GOOD GAME AND HE WON RATHER THAN HE PLAYED TERRIBLE AND I WIN. THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANT TO HAPPEN.

‘SNOOKER WILL BENEFIT’

Hendry has been working with Stephen Feeney, the much-lauded coach whose SightRight method helped Mark Williams enjoy a third world title in 2018 and Ronnie O’Sullivan career to a sixth victory last year.

Selt credits the work he has done with Feeney as key to his solitary ranking event success at the 2019 Indian Open in Kochi where he defeated John Higgins 4-2 in the semi-finals before a 5-3 win over Lyu Haotian in the final.

Selt feels Hendry would not be returning without hope having drifted into the abyss mourning the loss of the consistency that delivered seven world victories in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999.

As he chewed on a piece of gum after his gutting farewell loss to Maguire, a weight seemed to have been visibly lifted from the shoulders that revelled in 36 ranking titles, earned over eight million quid in prize money, became the sport’s youngest world champion at 21 and amassed 775 century breaks since 1985, a time when he was dubbed ‘The Wonder Bairn’.

This is a bloke who spent a record eight years as number one between 1990 and 1998 before returning to the summit in 2007 despite steady decline set against the suffocating benchmark of his own success story. The mind plays tricks on the greatest of champions.

“I’m a winner and I still hate to see other players winning,” Hendry said.

I STILL BELIEVE THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BELONGS TO ME.

During the era of Thatcherism in the UK, single-mindedness was viewed as a virtue, but seemed especially ripe for the solitary nature of snooker, a game the UK loved more than bangers and mash with their Sunday roast.

Hendry’s six Masters and five UK titles were all claimed between 1989 and 1996 before the trophies dried up as quickly as the tsunami of table time had gripped the sport, ripping away Steve Davis’ decade of supremacy in the 1980s. Hendry dissolved quicker than Davis because he could no longer accept the end of his dynasty.

Time spent away from the sport has allowed him to focus on business interests in China and regular commissions as a TV pundit, but the Edinburgh-born icon is keen to scratch the itch of unfinished business.

He has played exhibitions and some World Seniors fare, but this will see him plunged right back into the rat race as O’Sullivan puts it as he starts out ranked at 128, back at square one. Rather grimly, the sport’s number one Judd Trump thinks he will struggle to win a game.

“He retired for a reason and that reason must have changed because he feels like he can come back and play,” opined Selt.

OBVIOUSLY WORKING WITH STEPHEN FEENEY HAS HELPED. WITHOUT WORKING WITH STEVE, I WOULDN’T HAVE WON THE INDIAN OPEN.

“I have a lot of respect and credit for Steve. I still work with him now. I’m pretty sure Steve would have helped Stephen get back to some sort of level that allows him to participate and compete on the tour.

“It will be interesting to see what work he has done with Feeney to see how he plays.”

‘THE RIGHT CALL’

Selt recalls raising the subject with Hendry a decade ago to detect if he was on the verge of quitting having last lifted a ranking trophy at the 2005 Malta Cup.

“I did ask him during that season if he was going to retire and he denied it before retiring,” said Selt. “You could tell he wasn’t as sharp as he had been throughout his career.

“The questions were there if he was still enjoying it. Obviously that year when he did retire, he clearly wasn’t. You could tell he wasn’t enjoying it with some of the balls he was missing.

I THINK HE MADE THE RIGHT CALL BACK THEN. LET’S HOPE HE’S MADE THE RIGHT CALL COMING BACK OUT OF RETIREMENT BECAUSE IF HE CAN COMPETE AND PLAY TO A CERTAIN STANDARD, EVERYONE IN THE SNOOKER WORLD WILL BENEFIT FROM HIS RETURN TO THE TOUR.

“I don’t remember Stephen at his peak performance so I can’t comment on what he was like.
“But for someone who dominated the game for so long, he wasn’t putting in the performances he was used to.

“I suppose when you get to that kind of level, it is hard continuing knowing you aren’t reaching the standard you once did.

THAT’S WHY I’VE GOT ULTIMATE RESPECT FOR HIM COMING OUT TO TRY AGAIN.

Hendry has not revealed what has inspired his decision after joining Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White, the man he defeated in four world finals, and 1997 world champion Ken Doherty in accepting a two-year wildcard from WST chairman Barry Hearn to compete on the main circuit mainly for services to snooker.

Like Paul Newman as Fast Eddy Felson in The Color of Money, the public loves the return of an old hustler plotting a route back to the summit in any sport.

Sugar Ray Leonard completed one of sport’s most memorable comebacks when he outpointed Marvin Hagler in their world middleweight title fight in 1987 having fought just one since retiring in 1982, but Leonard also pointed out that: “you just don’t heal that easy unless you’re young”.

Selt has his own views about Hendry’s motivation having said that he is again keen to return to the Crucible.

“He hasn’t given me a reason. I think he just misses competing at the highest level and misses playing in front of the crowd,” said Selt.

“I think that’s why he has delayed his return. Although we are very lucky to be playing at Milton Keynes, there isn’t much of a buzz playing there without any fans.

“I think he wants to get some matches under his belt before the World Championship, an event he has won more than anybody else.

SO FOR HIM, HE’LL ALWAYS BE TRYING TO CHASE THE STUFF HE’S DONE BEFORE IN THAT TOURNAMENT.

‘CHANGED THE FACE OF THE GAME’

Hendry was a potting pioneer in altering the mood of the cautious 1980s to a more cavalier 1990s through to a modern era that witnesses buccaneering characters whose idea of a shot to nothing is always a shot for something.

Hendry’s idea of a safety shot was opting not to open the pack of reds at the first opportunity. His fearless approach has become the study guide to playing the modern way.

Selt feels that is illustrated by world number 81 Jordan Brown’s rise to prominence at the Welsh Open that included victories over Mark Selby, Stephen Maguire and O’Sullivan in the final.

“Stephen changed the face of the game to be super attacking and now it’s super attacking across the board,” explained Selt. “It has changed. Everyone plays the game the way he played the game. These early rounds, people don’t care.
“It’s all-out attack. If they pot balls, they win, if they don’t, they lose. It’s the people that pot them most consistently who win.

“It’s plain to see the standard of people outside the top 32 is a lot, lot higher than it has ever been.
“It’s questionable if it is higher at the top four or top eight. When would you have got a bloke like the world number 81 Jordan Brown beating everybody to win the Welsh Open?
“It would never have happened years ago.”
‘Get in there!’ – The moment Brown shocked O’Sullivan to win Welsh Open title

‘PROVE HE IS THE GREATEST’

Despite being close friends with Hendry, Selt’s snooker idol is another Scot in the form of Higgins, who managed to complete a 6-0 win over Mark Selby in the quarter-finals of his victorious Players Championship campaign with his opponent potting only three balls for seven points.

“That match against Selby was frightening. I’ve never hidden the fact that John Higgins is my snooker hero,” he said.

“To see him still play like that, gives me great pleasure to watch. He’s a phenomenal player.

“People go on about age, but does it really matter? They’re proving it’s just a number and are getting on with it.

“You are either really, really good or you are good. They are the greats and they will always be the greats until they put their cues down.

I THINK STEPHEN MUST MISS BEING THE GREATEST. I THINK THAT IS ONE OF THE REASONS WHY HE IS COMING BACK BECAUSE HE WANTS TO PROVE HE IS THE GREATEST.

“I hope he can prove that, but it remains to be seen.”

Selt has faced O’Sullivan, Hendry, Higgins, Steve Davis and Judd Trump at various stages of their respective careers, but feels the GOAT debate remains a live issue.
“People have different theories on who is the greatest,” he said. “Hendry has won the most world titles and Ronnie is the only player who can really eclipse that.
“I’m not a fence-sitter, but the older I become I do more fence sitting.

I THINK RONNIE IS THE GREATEST PLAYER TO PLAY THE GAME. I THINK HENDRY IS THE GREATEST WINNER.

“Higgins is my favourite so it’s a bit of a boring answer really from me. I just think the way Higgins conducts himself is different class.

“If they were all in a room together, he’s [Higgins] the only one you wouldn’t know what he won because he is just that down to earth.

I’VE ALWAYS HAD RESPECT FOR HIM. RONNIE SCARES THE LIVING S**T OUT OF ME. WHEN I PLAY HIM, I JUST CAN’T BREATHE.

Selt recalls being a nervous wreck when he first met Hendry in the last 32 of the World Grand Prix in Glasgow in 2009.

“It was an absolute honour. He beat me 5-2. I couldn’t walk around the table without my legs shaking.

“I still remember it vividly. Just being able to play these great players is a great honour and why I started playing snooker in the first place.”

‘STAND UP TO THE PRESSURE’

Selt has earned over £680,000 in prize money from a career that has spanned 19 years. He has twice qualified for the World Championship and is the only man in history to make five centuries in six frames in his 6-0 walloping of Amine Amiri in the first round of the UK Championship in December.

“I’ve got a little bit of grievance about that. They say I’m the third person to make five centuries in a best-of-11 match,” he commented. “I am the only player in history to make five centuries in six frames. It has never happened before.

“In my next match, Lu Ning missed a yellow off the spot for five in a row.
“I’m very proud of some of the stuff I’ve achieved. I think I’ve had three centuries on the spin five times in my career.

“For someone who hasn’t done much in the game, which I haven’t at this point, I’ve got some good stuff going on in places.

“I am playing pretty well and I’m looking forward to seeing how I compete in what is going to be the biggest match I’ve ever played in.

“I’m looking forward to see how I personally stand up to the pressure.”

The bloke in the other chair might be feeling it more. No other snooker great has been away for so long before reigniting their inner flame. It is uncharted territory for Hendry, but the return of the king after nine years in exile creates its own elixir. Will it be a potion to bring back the heady afterglow of his youthful yesteryear?

Far from the madding crowd, and far from his potting pomp, Stephen Hendry again commands everybody’s attention.

I sincerly hope for Stephen that he can compete and compete well tonight and that all those expectations piled on him will not weight too much.

The 2021 Gibraltar Open – Day 1

The Gibraltar OPen is not the most lucrative tournament in the calendar, but because he’s one of the very last before the World Championship qualifiers, it is mightily important for many players, the lowest ranked ones in particular.

Here is WST report on what happened yesterday:

Trump In Control Of Series

Defending champion Judd Trump recorded a comfortable 4-1 win over Robbie Williams on day one of the BetVictor Gibraltar Open.

Trump lifted the title in 2020, with a 4-3 win over Kyren Wilson in the final. By winning the event 12 months ago, he secured last year’s BetVictor European Series bonus, which is awarded to the player who accumulates the most prize money across all of the eligible tournaments.

World number one Trump is in pole position to scoop this year’s bumper £150,000 payout, having already won the BetVictor German Masters. Only BetVictor European Masters winner Mark Selby and BetVictor Welsh Open champion Jordan Brown can catch him in this week’s concluding event.

The Ace in the Pack fired in breaks of 74, 54 and 80 on his way to this evening’s victory. He’ll face either Sunny Akani or Haydon Pinhey in round two.

Trump said: “There have been a wide spread of winners in the series this year. There are three people that can still win it, so I had no choice but to enter.

“I saw that myself and Mark Selby are in the same half of the draw. It puts it in my hands if I can get that far. It would be nice if we could get through and meet each other in the semis.

“You can’t pick what tournaments you are going to win, so you have to be super consistent and keep winning throughout the season. I won the German Masters again this year and it is the biggest prize money of the series. I was decent in the other events and put myself in control. I think Mark will be a little bit disappointed not to be in the driving seat.”

Shaun Murphy secured his place in the second round after battling back to beat Ashley Hugill 4-2.

Triple Crown winner Murphy had trailed world number 117 Hugill 2-0. However, breaks of 56, 60 and 140 helped him to reel off four frames on the bounce and emerge the 4-2 victor.

Chinese teenager Si Jiahui stunned compatriot and Asian number one Ding Junhui 4-2, making contributions of 99, 63 and 58 in an impressive display.

Welshman Jamie Clarke booked his place in round two with a fine 4-1 win over Masters champion Yan Bingtao, while Joe Perry defeated Mark Davis 4-2.

What happens to Judd Trump, and who will take the bonus, will be the last thing on the mind of those players who are fighting for their Tour survival.

In that respect there were some important results yesterday.

Alexander Ursenbacher beat Yuan Sijun. Yuan Sijun is currently ranked 63rd but losing yesterday means that he will be down to 65th after this tournament. Strangely, the beneficiary of this is Mei Xiwen who is now provisionally ranked 64th, despite not playing at all this season. That won’t last though.

Zhou Yuelong beat Xu Si. Xu Si is currently second in that group of eight “out of the top 64, but redeemed via the one year list”. He’s 5000 points ahead of Jackson Page who is 8th in that list. However all other players in that list are still in this tournament, and most of them are still in the WST Pro Series. Xu Si is out of both.

Si Jiahui has a lot to do, but beating Ding yesterday was an important first step in the context of his tour survival. Si played really well at the start of the match, despite being involved in an incident with the referee. Indeed, Si arrived in the arena without a bow tie and looked quite nonplusssed when told that he needed one. The referee sent him backstage – after the first frame – to get one, with some “strong words”, but, thankfully, didn’t dock him a frame. This still caused some disruption of course. When Ding started to come back at him, it was obvious that Si was under a lot of pressure and very anxious. He managed to get over the line though. Well done to him.

Jamie Clarke is in the first year of a two years tour card, so no danger for him, but he played some excellent stuff in beating Yan Bingtao.

 

State of the various rankings after the 2021 Players Championship

Following the conclusion of the 2021 Players Championship, WST has published this update about rankings:

Rankings Update: Key Move For Higgins

John Higgins has soared to fourth place on the one-year ranking list following his outstanding victory at the Cazoo Players Championship.

Higgins beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-3 in the final on Sunday and won the tournament for the loss of just four frames, landing his first ranking title in three years.

The £125,000 top prize sees him leap from tenth to fourth, and guarantee a spot at the Cazoo Tour Championship later this month. Only the top eight players on the list (as it stands at the end of the WST Pro Series) will head to the Celtic Manor Resort for that event which runs from March 22 to 28.

O’Sullivan is overtaken by Higgins and drops from fourth to fifth, despite taking the £50,000 runner-up prize. Barry Hawkins reached the semi-finals and climbs into eighth spot with £110,500, ahead of Jordan Brown who has £100,000 in ninth.

There are just two counting events to go before the field is set for the Cazoo Tour Championship: this week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open and the WST Pro Series. A top prize of £50,000 is up for grabs this week so all players down to Ding Junhui in 14th could potentially jump above Hawkins into the top eight.

As is stands, Hawkins and Jack Lisowski are the only players inside the top eight of the one-year list who are outside the top eight of the official two-year list.

Hawkins – on the bubble in the Cazoo Tour Championship race

Higgins climbs to fifth on the two-year list while O’Sullivan remains second, closing the gap slightly on runaway leader Judd Trump. Higgins also tops the Cazoo Series rankings with £132,500.

This week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open is the sixth and final event in the BetVictor European Series.  The leader of that ranking list come Sunday night will earn a huge £150,000 bonus. Judd Trump leads the way with £124,500, followed by Mark Selby on £118,000. Selby must at least reach the final to have a chance of the bonus. The only other player in the running is Jordan Brown on £87,500 – he must win the title to have a chance.

Prize money for the BetVictor Gibraltar Open is:

Winner: £50,000
Runner-up: £20,000
Semi-finals: £6,000
Quarter-finals: £5,000
Last 16: £4,000
Last 32: £3,000
Last 64: £2,000
High break: £5,000
Total: £251,000

There are just three counting events remaining in the Race to the Crucible. Hawkins’ run last week moved him up from 16th to 13th and he now looks safe.

Lisowski reached the quarter-finals last week and the £15,000 pay day crucially moves him up from 17th to 16th, with Zhou Yuelong edged down to 17th. Both of those players could go ahead of 15th-placed Anthony McGill in the second phase of the WST Pro Series, as McGill has already been knocked out of that event.

For several players in the chasing pack, this week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open is a vital opportunity to gain ground.

As it stands Ronnie is set to face John Higgins in the first round of the 2021 Tour Championship. John hasn’t entered the WST Pro Series, so his tally of points will not change before the start of that tournament.

Also, whatever happens, Judd Trump will be ranked number one, with Mark Selby and Neil Robertson ranked two and three but not necessarily in that order.

Theoretically, Ronnie, Kyren Wilson or Jack Lisowski could still overcome John Higgins in the “race to the Tour Championship”  but it’s unlikely. Ronnie having pulled out of the Gibraltar Open, would basically need to make the final of the WST Pro Series. Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski would need to win the Gibraltar Open and do well, very well in Lisowki case, in the WST Pro Series. However, Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski would overtake Ronnie if they were to win this week. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind that.

 

The 2021 Gibraltar Open – Ronnie and John Higgins withdraw

Higgins-Ronnie-Meeting

I haven’t seen a WST statement yet, but going by the draw on their site, Ronnie and John Higgins have withdrawn and are replaced by John Astley and Hamim Hussain respectively.

It’s understandable, and both are safe for the 2021 Tour Championship.

John would probably find it difficult to be up for this best-of-seven from start to finish tournament, and Ronnie, I think, was showing signs of stress and fatigue. As Clive Everton often stated it does nothing good for him to “overplay”, and after yesterday’s defeat, he probably needs to step back and regroup.

The 2021 Gibraltar Open – Hendry’s return

The 2021 Gibraltar Open is about to start and the man talking point ahead of the tournament is Stephen Hendry’s return.

WST have published this video on their YouTube channel

There has also been this interesting interview with Eurosport:

GIBRALTAR OPEN 2021: ‘I BASICALLY GAVE UP’ – STEPHEN HENDRY HOPING TO MAKE UP FOR ‘EMBARRASSMENT’

Stephen Hendry confirmed he would appear at the Gibraltar Open – staged in Milton Keynes – which runs from March 1 to March 7 live on Eurosport. A legend of snooker, having recorded 775 century breaks in his decorated career, Hendry says he wants to prove the doubters wrong and make up for his last loss back in 2012.

HendryReturns

Seven-time world title winner Stephen Hendry says he wants to make up for an “embarrassing” loss nine years ago when he makes his comeback at the Gibraltar Open aged 52 next week.
I lost 13-2 to Steve Maguire [in the quarter-finals] and I basically gave up about a third of the way through the match,” he told The Times.

I KNEW IT WAS OVER. I KNEW I COULDN’T COMPETE.

I would like my last match at the Crucible, if possible, to be a match I can look back on and think, ‘I played well, I did everything I could even if I lost.
“I want a game when I can be happy with what I gave rather than that 13-2 embarrassment.
“One of my goals in this comeback is not about winning but just to get back to the Crucible.

I AM GOING TO HAVE TO WIN FOUR MATCHES [IN QUALIFYING] JUST TO GET THERE, ALMOST A MINI-TOURNAMENT, SO IT’S GOING TO BE SO, SO DIFFICULT. BUT THERE’S NO POINT IN SETTING YOURSELF EASY GOALS.

Judd Trump says it would be a “surprise” to him if Hendry “won any games at all” on his return.

Hendry insists he is not fussed by the talk and compares his comeback to that made by golfer Tiger Woods.
I heard some of the same stuff when Tiger Woods was coming back, that he wouldn’t be able to compete because the young players were hitting it longer than him now,” he said.

EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO THEIR OPINION. I JUST SAW JUDD, WE’VE HAD A LAUGH ABOUT IT. IT WOULD MAKE IT NICE TO WIN MY FIRST MATCH AND SAY, ‘THERE YOU GO.’

Hendry believes that the overall standard of the tour has not significantly improved since his prime years.

He added: “The top players are great, great players but there is still a lot of snooker out there where I think: ‘There’s nothing there that I wasn’t doing’.”
My return feels like a double-edged sword. I am a scalp, I’ve still got the name someone wants to beat but, then, who wants to lose to me in my first match since 2012? There’s pressure both ways.

So, that’s a bit different from what we have seen elsewhere.

I was at the Crucible, taking pictures that year, and in the media room. It was all strange. Stephen dry had needed to qualify for the World Championship that year. He had beaten Gerard Greene by 10-8. He then completely dominate Stuart Bingham in the first round , beating him 10-4 and making a maximum, and John Higgings who was defending champions, beating him by 13-4. He had been unusually animated after his maximum. Then against Stephen Maguire, he struggled. The third frame was close, but Stephen made a mistake at a crucial moment and then it was as if he had been knocked out, it went all spiralling down. It was as if every belief had left him. After the match, he came to the media room, sat down, and calmly said “I have played my last professional match”. It took (almost) everyone by surprise. There was a stunned silence in the room. Stephen then explained that he had taken his decisions months earlier. That he didn’t like the new structure of the tour, didn’t want to struggle in qualifier and wasn’t prepared to carry on if he could not win anymore.

Good luck to him on his return. It’s quite the challenge.

The 2021 Players Championship – John Higgins is the Champion

John Higgins won the 31st title of his carrer yesterday beating Ronnie by 10-3 in the Final. It has been an extraordinary week for John, who only lost four frames over the whole tournament, three of them to Ronnie yesterday. To his own assessment he has played the best snooker of his entire career to win this tournament.

Congratulations John Higgins!

PlayersChamps2021HigginsChampion

Here are the scores:

PlayersChamps2021FinalScores

That’s simply pretty impressive.

Here are the reports by WST:

Afternoon Session

Higgins In Charge Of Final

Higgins-Ronnie-PlayersChamps2021FinalHandshakeJohn Higgins built a 6-2 lead over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first session of the Cazoo Players Championship final, and needs just four more frames to win his first ranking title in three years.

A battle between two of snooker’s all-time greats has been dominated so far by Higgins, who has lost just three of the 27 frames he has played so far this week in Milton Keynes. However, in the last frame of the session, O’Sullivan showed a glimpse of his genius with the highest break of the tournament so far, to raise his hopes of a fight back in the concluding chapter which starts at 7pm. First to ten frames will take the £125,000 top prize.

Higgins is aiming for his 31st ranking title and first since the 2018 Welsh Open. The 45-year-old Scot, competing in his 51st ranking final, has played some of the best snooker of his career this week, notably in a 6-0 defeat of Mark Selby in the quarter-finals.

O’Sullivan is playing his 57th ranking final, equalling Stephen Hendry’s record. The 45-year-old from Essex is seeking his first title since becoming World Champion for a sixth time last August. He has lost three ranking finals already this season, including a shock 9-8 reverse against Jordan Brown in the BetVictor Welsh Open a week ago.

PlayersChamps2021ROSFinal-1O’Sullivan won this title in 2018 and 2019

These two legends both turned pro in 1992 and have met on 64 previous occasions, O’Sullivan winning 35 of those. The Englishman has won ten of their previous 17 finals, though they have not met in the final of a ranking event since the 2005 Grand Prix, when Higgins came out on top 9-2.

O’Sullivan will be second in the world rankings regardless of the result, while Higgins will move up from sixth to fifth if he lands the title.

Four-time World Champion Higgins got the better of a fragmented opening frame today, then won the second with a break of 92. A missed long red from O’Sullivan in frame three let Higgins in for a run of 68 for 3-0.

It was spell-binding stuff from the Wizard of Wishaw in the the next two frames as total clearances of 142 and 138 put him 5-0 ahead and brought his tally of centuries for the week to seven. He had a scoring chance in frame six but made just 26 before running out of position, and this time O’Sullivan punished him as a long red set up a break of 82 to get one on the board.

Frame seven lasted 35 minutes and came down to the colours. O’Sullivan went for a risky double on the yellow to a baulk corner and was fortunate to leave it safe. He later potted the yellow but then attempted a do-or-die thin cut on the green to the same pocket and this time left it hanging over the jaws. Higgins cleared to the pink for 6-1.

In the last of the session, a long red set O’Sullivan up for a marvellous 144, eclipsing Barry Hawkins’ target of 143 for the £10,000 high break prize. The Rocket might need more of the same if he is to take eight of the last 11 frames tonight.

WST shared Ronnie’s 144 on their youtube channel

Evening Session

Wonderful Higgins Thrashes O’Sullivan

Playing the best snooker of his 29-year career, John Higgins hammered Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-3 in the final of the Cazoo Players Championship to win his first ranking title in three years.

Remarkably, Higgins won the tournament for the loss of just four frames, having beaten Jordan Brown 6-0, Mark Selby 6-0 and Kyren Wilson 6-1 in his first three matches in Milton Keynes.

The final between two giants of the baize, who have clashed on the table 65 times in a rivalry spanning three decades, turned out to be a one-sided affair as Higgins made three centuries and five more breaks over 50 as he romped to the £125,000 top prize and captured his 31st ranking title.

A change to his technique, moving the cue tip closer to the white ball at address, has worked wonders for Higgins in recent weeks. The Scot was runner-up to Yan Bingtao at the Masters and has gone one better this week to land his first ranking crown since the 2018 Welsh Open. At the age of 45 and having been a pro since 1992, he insists he has never struck the ball more cleanly and with such control and confidence.

The result lifts him one place to fifth in the world rankings, and crucially boosts him from tenth to fourth on the one-year list and guarantees his place at the Cazoo Tour Championship at the end of March. He also earns a spot at the Champion of Champions later in the year. No doubt Higgins will already have one eye on the Crucible in the Spring; in this week’s form he will be a mighty force.

PlayersChamps2021ROSFinal-2O’Sullivan made breaks of 82, 144 and 110 in the three frames he won

O’Sullivan misses out on a 38th ranking title and third Players Championship crown. He has now lost four finals since conquering the Crucible for a sixth time last August. He was beaten by Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open, Mark Selby at the Scottish Open, Jordan Brown at the BetVictor Welsh Open and now Higgins. In truth, no opponent could have lived with Higgins this week, so strong was he in every department.

Leading 6-2 after the first session, Higgins took the first frame tonight with a break 51, initiated by a tricky thin cut on a red to a baulk corner. O’Sullivan hit back with a break of 110, the fourth century of the match, but didn’t score a point in the next two frames as Higgins made 70 and 77 to lead 9-3 at the interval.

Fittingly, Higgins wrapped up the match in frame 13 with another century, a superb 127.

It’s the best week of my snooker career,” said Higgins, who has now won 30 of his 65 matches with O’Sullivan, and triumphed in eight of their 18 finals. “I have won bigger tournaments, but in terms of the way I have played and felt the whole week, it’s my best ever. I’m delighted.

I was in the zone tonight, I would have loved to play more frames. I was enjoying it, especially against an opponent like Ronnie.  In the first session he went for a lot of balls, and that put me off a bit. He obviously fancied it, the way he was playing. To lead 6-2 was brilliant, and I played well again tonight.

It’s easy to get into bad habits in this game and I don’t have a coach. I am just glad I have rectified the technique issue I had, and I will stick with the change I have made. To win a big tournament like this guarantees me the chance to keep competing against the top players for at least the next couple of years.

“Before Christmas, people wouldn’t have seen me as one of the favourites for the World Championship. I’ve got a chance now.”

O’Sullivan said: “I knew I would have to play very well today against John but in the end I got peppered by him, just as everyone else has this week. It’s great to see him back playing well, it’s good for snooker and I’m happy for him. What he has done on the table this week, you don’t see that very often. Hopefully the next time I get to a final it will be my day.”

Now where do I start about this match?

Probably with this admission: I expected this to happen as those who did read yesterday’s post will know. I know that when John really plays at his very best, he will beat Ronnie more often than not – something Stephen Hendry said on twitter as well yesterday – and this week he had been playing the best snooker I have ever seen from him. I knew that Ronnie would be coming into this match without much confidence: he has played John often enough to know that he can’t compete with him in the tactical department when John is at his very best, and he had seen what John had done to Mark Selby, restricting hin to only 3 balls and 7 points over the whole match.

The commentators – Ken Doherty in particular – criticised Ronnie for lacking patience. I’m not sure that’s the correct assessment of what Ronnie did, to no avail, in the first part of the match. That why I have put that bit of John’s quotes in blue. Those two know each other inside out, and psychology is very important in snooker. There are almost always underlying mindgames in the course of a snooker match. I believe that Ronnie, knowing that he wouldn’t beat John in this form at his own game, tried to derail him a bit, hoping that, maybe, his concentration and focus would drop a notch. It did not work and he found himself 5-0 down, an almost hopeless position against such a formidable opponent.

That’s now four defeats in four finals for Ronnie. It’s bound to hurt, although Ronnie, speaking to Eurosport looks detrmined to stay positive and continue to try his best.

PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP 2021 – ‘YOU JUST WAIT FOR AN EARLY NIGHT’ – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON JOHN HIGGINS

Higgins called O’Sullivan “the best ever” during his victory speech at the Players Championship, while O’Sullivan admitted he had put pressure on himself after seeing the flawless Scot charge into the final with some exceptional displays. O’Sullivan, who has lost all four finals he has played in 2020-21, added that he “can’t be too disappointed” with his recent results.

PlayersChamps2021ROSFinal-3
Ronnie O’Sullivan | Players Championship
Image credit: Eurosport

Ronnie O’Sullivan called John Higgins’ display in the Players Championship final a “masterclass” after being outplayed in Sunday’s showdown.
The Rocket was brilliant on his few extended visits at the table – including breaks of 144 and 110 – but came up against an inspired opponent as he went down 10-3.

John was strong. I knew I had to play well today and maybe I put a little bit of pressure on myself, thinking I had to play as well as I could to have a chance,” O’Sullivan told ITV.
Once you don’t punish John and he’s playing as well as he is, then you do a lot of sitting in your chair.
There’s not a lot you can do sometimes when someone is as good as John and he’s tying you up in knots and making 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s. You just have to sit it out and wait for an early night.

Higgins’ run to a first trophy in three years included a memorable quarter-final win over Mark Selby, where he restricted the three-time world champion to just seven points.
Meanwhile, O’Sullivan has tasted defeat in all four finals he has reached this season.
All you can do is do your best. If your best is just good enough to get you to finals then you have to accept that,” said O’Sullivan, who also finished runner-up at the Northern Ireland Open, Scottish Open and Welsh Open.
Then hopefully one week I’ll get it right on the final day and hopefully get a trophy. But you can’t be too disappointed. There are 126 players that would probably swap positions with me at the moment so you’ve got to try and take some positives from it.
“John was unbelievable this week, fantastic, played brilliant snooker. A masterclass today.

And the bad news is that, as things stand, he’s bound to face John again in the first round of the Tour Championship next month. Not a happy propspect …