And so it begins …

The 2021 World Championship will kick off in a few hours. Granted, it is at the EIS, behind closed doors, but it IS the World Championship and for many players involved it’s their survival as main tour professionals that is at stake. There will be more blood, sweat and tears, and more pressure at the EIS in the coming ten days than anywhere else this season, including at the Crucible later this month. Bear that in mind when watching.

My own attention will be mainly on three matches.

In the first session, Reanne Evans, 12 times Women World Champion will face Andy Hicks. Andy Hicks is currently ranked 87th in the provisional end-of-season ranking list, in the relegation zone, but with a chance to stay on tour via the “one-year” redeem list. He is however 7th on that list of 8. With £5000 for the winner, but nothing for the loser in terms of ranking points, it’s a massive match for him this morning. A defeat today would mean that his fate is out of his own hands with several players breathing down his neck, notably Igor Figuereido, Jackson Page and Luo Honghao. Reanne will have her own brand of pressure. Making the Women tour a qualification route for the World Championship has not gone down well with many players, most notably the ones high in the Q-School reserve list. She will want to prove that she deserves to be there.

In the second session, I will focus on Soheil Vahedi v Julien Leclercq. I really have divided loyalties here. Soheil didn’t have the best of seasons and needs a really deep run to have any chance t stay on tour. He has opened up about his struggles as an Iranian professional. He has also shown true bravery in playing Eden Sharav recently, despite the possible consequences should he go back to his country. Julien is a native French-speaker and Belgian, like me. Snooker is quite healthy in the northern part of Belgium, but not that much in the southern part. Most Belgian snooker players are native Dutch-speakers. Julien is the only young native French-speaker Belgian prospect.  I hope both can play well.

Regarding Julien, he has agreed to answer a few questions – thank you Julien – and will also send me some feedback after his match. I will publish that interview tomorrow, in French, with English translation. Amongst other things, Julien explains how difficult it proved to be to get in the UK for this comp, despite the support of Jason Ferguson and Neil Tomkins. 

The evening match … well … there is a certain Stephen Hendry vs a certain Jimmy White.

Here is what they had to say to Eurosport ahead of their match

Jimmy White

World Championship 2021 – ‘I’m fighting for my Tour future’ – Jimmy White on Stephen Hendry match

The Break podcast is back for season three ahead of the 2021 World Snooker Championship. The team look forward to the hugely-anticipated qualifier between our own Jimmy White and seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry, which has all of sport talking. That match is live and exclusive on eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app on Monday at 7:30pm.

Jimmy White has told Eurosport’s The Break podcast he is fighting for his future on the Tour ahead of his World Championship qualifier against Stephen Hendry on Monday, but enters the clash full of confidence.

Six-time runner-up White will face seven-time world champion Hendry in a blockbuster draw in World Championship qualifying.

The pair met in four World Championship finals, now they will face each other just for the chance to play at the Crucible proper this year.

Ahead of their huge match on Monday, White admits his immediate ambition is to be on the Tour and is not out looking to avenge his World Championship final defeats to Hendry.

“I’m trying to fight for my Tour card,” he said on episode one of season three of The Break podcast.

“I found a bit of form in Gibraltar and then the next tournament after.

“I’ve been playing well for quite some time, but unless you’re doing it on the match table it’s absolutely irrelevant. I’ve got a lot of confidence.

If I was to beat him ten times in a row I still wouldn’t get revenge on all of the world finals. I’m just pleased Eurosport are showing it live so all the snooker fans can get to see it.

‘Why would I?’ – Hendry has no regrets over finals wins ahead of White showdown
White says part of his newfound confidence from a 4-3 win over rookie Joe O’Connor at the Gibraltar Open last month and is adamant his snooker comeback is “far from over”.

“Going into Gibraltar I realised my situation was coming to a head,” he said. “I spoke with people around me and I said to myself: ‘If I don’t start producing, I don’t even have a chance to stay on’.

“Luckily enough against Joe O’Connor I found a bit of form and I managed to win that match. Since that actual day my game has been a lot stronger. I’ve put myself in a good position where I can stay on without asking for a wildcard.

“If worse comes to the worst I will go to Q School. I still love playing, I still play to a good standard, but as I’ve said before on this podcast, doing it in practice doesn’t mean anything. You have to produce it on the match table and I’m starting to do that in bits and pieces.

“Hopefully If I can take the form from the practice table into any one of these tournaments I can win one because I am playing that well. I am focusing on that.

The wildcard situation if I win that will take care of itself. If I don’t get my wildcard I go to Q School. It’s far from over for me.

Stephen Hendry

World Championship 2021: ‘He’s been trying too hard’ – Stephen Hendry keen to avoid Jimmy White woes

Stephen Hendry faces Jimmy White for the 60th time in the first round of qualifying for the World Championship on Monday (LIVE on eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app at 19:30 BST). The record seven-times winner hopes to succeed where White has failed over the past 15 years by qualifying for the Crucible at the first attempt after a nine-year absence from the sport he dominated in the 1990s.

Stephen Hendry believes Jimmy White’s failure to reach the Crucible since 2006 can help his own prospects of progress ahead of their much-anticipated World Championship qualifier on Monday night.

The seven-times world champion faces the six-times runner-up White – who he famously defeated in four Crucible finals between 1990 and 1994 – for the 60th time on the main World Snooker Tour in the opening qualifying round after ending a nine-year absence in a 4-1 defeat to Matthew Selt at the Gibraltar Open last month.

Hendry harbours dreams of winning four matches to return to the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, scene of his greatest victories in the sport and arguably his most forgettable defeat when he retired following a 13-2 drubbing by Stephen Maguire in the 2012 quarter-finals.

The 36-times ranking event winner admits he will use White’s failure to qualify over the past 15 years as a reminder to relax when they meet at the English Institute of Sport.

White has not returned to the Crucible since losing 10-5 to David Gray in the first round in 2006 with Hendry believing any lack of success is all down to the individual.

Hendry v White – Unfinished business at World Championship
“It’s a different situation, but I have to remember how I coped with being number one for all those years. Hopefully, I can enjoy the fact that people want to beat me,” said Hendry, who spent a record 10 years as number one with nine straight seasons at the summit between 1990 and 1998.

“I will be a scalp for somebody. I’ve got to approach it and not put too much importance on it because I think you look at Jimmy all these years.

I think Jimmy has been dying to play at the Crucible again all these years and I think it has affected him in qualifying. He’s almost trying too hard.

“I’ve got to guard against that. I’ve got to be mentally prepared to go there and experience it. I’ve got to guard against trying too hard and wanting it too much.

“I’ve got excitement to see how far my game will go, but no expectations.”

‘Vintage Hendry!’ – Seven-time world champion produces glorious century in comeback match
Hendry has no plans to change his social media handles from 775 until he makes his 800th century in the sport despite hitting his 776th against Selt with a classy break of 107 a timely reminder of his ability among the balls.

He is hoping fans will be allowed back to the sport’s most celebrated venue with a full house of up to 1,000 set to be allowed access to the Crucible as a test scheme for the government’s vaccine passport idea.

“One of the main reasons why I came back was to experience the Crucible with fans and play a match in it,” said Hendry, who has been working on producing a tighter safety game to enhance his long game.

Hendry, in the first year of a two-year invitational tour card, was last forced to qualify for the World Championship in 1988 when he lost 13-12 to White, then seeded second, in the second round. Ranked 83 in the world, White needs a victory to keep alive his hopes of retaining his tour card.

“It’s a lot tougher to win four matches now than it was then,” said Hendry. “You almost have to win a tournament to qualify. It was an adventure back then.”

“I wouldn’t say I have written these two tournaments off,” added the Scotsman, who is 35-19 clear of White on their career head-to-heads.

“I’m going to try to win them, but I want to get used to being out there, back in that situation.

“Hopefully, over the next year I can play in some more events and see where it takes me. “

 

One thought on “And so it begins …

  1. I am working for a US bank for the next 6 weeks, so I won’t be able to watch very much of the action after 2pm on weekdays, including the Bank Holidays (they are not holidays in the US), which means I’ll miss the media circus tonight (thankfully), but also final session at the Crucible. I’ll try and keep up, and watch videos if I can find them. The morning matches in the first round aren’t the most interesting, but after that it gets better.

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