Desmond Kane reflects upon Ronnie’s return to the top … and gets quite lyrical😉

As we have a day off at the 2020 UK Championship … You feel bored?  Missing the snooker? here is something to read.

UK CHAMPIONSHIP 2020: ‘I FEEL LIKE I’M KING OF MY CASTLE’ – RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON EPIC RETURN TO TOP

BY DESMOND KANE

A revitalised Ronnie O’Sullivan has found a fresh passion for potting and is performing better than ever in his fourth decade at the snooker summit. The six-times defending world champion tells Desmond Kane how he potted and plotted his return to glory in the year of the pandemic. His year could yet get better as he targets an eighth UK Championship at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

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For Ronnie O’Sullivan, the world is not enough. Not when he has fallen in love with his time-served passion for potting all over again. At the venerable snooker age of 44, a juncture when most professionals are on the wane as former glories frustratingly fade into the framed fug of yesteryear and dewy-eyed folklore, the world champion seems to just be getting warmed up.

“I wish I could have enjoyed playing like this earlier on in my career. I’ve had so much fun,” he said after losing 9-7 to Judd Trump in an epic Northern Ireland Open final having contributed two centuries and five breaks over 50 in a narrow defeat.

While Trump is world number one after lifting a whopping 11 ranking events over the past two years, the big one eluded him last season. It is a rejuvenated O’Sullivan who again holds snooker’s most coveted prize six years after his fifth Crucible triumph in Sheffield.

His status as the greatest player of all time was already secured due to his astonishing longevity and an incomparable mastering of his modern art form. His ongoing brilliance in brandishing a cue is perhaps comparable in genius to Pablo Picasso clutching a paintbrush and projecting an inspired soul.

O’Sullivan specialises in snooker surrealism beyond the confines of a 12ft by 6ft table. His next canvas is the UK Championship in Milton Keynes where he hopes to splash some colour over a record eighth trophy. It would be a special end to a year that has witnessed O’Sullivan conquer the Crucible while searching for a cue action that has stood the test of time.

The big events are the yardstick, the three things that never change in snooker,” O’Sullivan tells Eurosport. “That is the only true measure of where you stand in the game. The important records are the World Championship, the Masters and the UK. Obviously how many times you have won them marks you out. Jack Nicklaus has got 18 majors in golf, six of them came in the Masters, five in the US PGA, four US Opens and three British Opens.

“That applies the same to snooker. So, to have the record of winning 20 majors, six world titles, seven UKs and seven Masters – I’ve got three out of the four important records. Hendry still has seven world titles, but I’m not greedy. I’m happy to have hit them spots and get the job done in the important events.”

THE PEOPLE AROUND ME SAY I’M CRAZY, ‘WHY ARE YOU BOTHERING ANYMORE?’

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Snooker is about the narrative, growing with the story. It doesn’t have to be fast and furious,” the six-times world champion Steve Davis once remarked. O’Sullivan has become the main protagonist of that narrative.

Such has been the enduring, ongoing adroitness of Rocket Ronnie, it is easy to forget that he had yet to win his first world title before he overcame his close friend and fierce foe John Higgins 18-14 in the 2001 final aged 25 at the Crucible Theatre. Yet here he is two decades on, prowling the table like he is in the first flush of youth, like a fictional melding of Fast Eddie Felson and Benjamin Button of the old green baize, playing out a generation game with his generation like no other sportsman.

The angles have not and will not wither him. Like the formidable Welsh potter Cliff Wilson, he is not one for holding back when the mood takes him as a timeless trend-setter. There remains a youthfulness, a creative ambition and a vital sense of adventure about his play that truly is something to behold in any field of sporting excellence. In any field of professional sport.

Higgins – the four-times Crucible champion from Scotland – himself made from girders, turned professional alongside O’Sullivan 28 years ago and once said that he knew his fellow ‘Class of 92’ graduate was destined for greatness when he first witnessed him at the age of 15 because he gave off a glow like “the Ready Brek man”.

Despite yearning for the cathedral city of York, traditional home of the UK Championship, O’Sullivan has been relocated and reinvigorated behind closed doors in Milton Keynes, his self-belief emboldened by claiming the World Championship with an 18-8 final filleting of Kyren Wilson, a player 16 years younger, in a quite August. His sixth title came after a six-year wait in potting purgatory.

“Playing snooker, most of the people around me say I’m crazy, why are you bothering anymore?” he tells Eurosport. “But I always say to them, it isn’t going to be forever. While I can do it with one arm and one leg and still compete, I’ll play snooker. Listen, I have a bit of fun with it.

“The way I approach it is if I get to a tournament and don’t feel like it, it doesn’t matter if I win or lose. But there are times when I really, really love it and I want to play and I’ll put 100 percent effort in. It all depends on what side of the bed you get out of sometimes. I just let a bad day turn into a really bad day and get home a little bit earlier. But when the good days are there, I keep going with those ones.”

The good ones continue to vastly outnumber the bad ones for O’Sullivan, particularly in the latter half of his career. He continues to find fresh ground with endless possibilities and prospects in a career trajectory which is nowhere near its final denouement, totalling a record 37 ranking titles including seven Masters and seven UKs to go with the half a dozen world crowns snagged over four pristine decades of play. Snared in his teens, 20s, 30s and 40s, it is quite a dynasty of World Snooker Tour’s Triple Crown series. Sometimes it seems as though there is nowhere he hasn’t spread his green baize gospel amid a salivating fan base which transcends the sport.

Put quite simply, the opposition are nowhere near being good enough to retire him.

It is easy to gush when you study O’Sullivan’s majestic levels of form that has wrought over 1050 centuries, the most of any player in history. It is also difficult to suggest the year of the pandemic has provided him with some sort of snooker renaissance, because he has never really gone away.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD AGAIN

Much of O’Sullivan’s appetite for the game has been sated by making good on his promise to right the wrongs of 2014, a year that seemed to signal the death knell on his hopes of joining Davis and Ray Reardon as a six-times world champion. After his latest rousing victory, matching Stephen Hendry’s scintillating seven-year stretch between 1990 and 1999 is no longer a foolhardy notion.

During coronavirus lockdown, O’Sullivan ended up sporting a Merv Hughes-type moustache, but was also busy explaining to Hendry on Instagram that he had real regrets about the past. “The match I’d like to play again would be Selby in the 2014 final because I’d have played it differently,” he said in June. “I would have done everything I could to not get bogged down and keep the game open. When I looked back, I thought I’d got sucked into his game. It wasn’t until after that game that I thought, ‘yeah I might lose to you and I probably will lose to you again, but it’s going to be on my terms’.

It was perhaps written in the Crucible light bulbs then that he would again confront the three-times world champion Selby this year with the whole shooting match on the table before O’Sullivan decided to go all in.

O’Sullivan came into their semi-final arguably as second favourite despite wins over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Ding Junhui and Mark Williams on his sojourn to face the only player to defeat him in world, Masters and UK finals.

It was his first experience of the fabled one-table set-up at the venue in over half a decade having lost two quarter-finals to Ding Junhui and Stuart Bingham, two last-16 matches to Ali Carter and Barry Hawkins respectively and a shocking first-round amateur defeat to James Cahill a year earlier when the magnitude of the moment seemed to visibly disturb him.

The 44th staging of the delayed World Championship was by common consent an elongated, excruciating event that looked beyond his attention span if not his ability. Selby was once described by O’Sullivan as “the torturer” and the sport’s most taut and tortuous contest of the year would provide him with a road out of potting perdition.

O’Sullivan was staring into the abyss trailing 16-14 in a contest that saw Selby’s tactical supremacy largely dominate as he led at various junctures – most notably 13-9 on the final day. He was on the cusp of another crushing failure against a hardened, no-frills professional nicknamed the ‘Jester from Leicester’ with little scope for humour on the table.

Selby had decimated his dreams when he recovered from trailing 10-5 to win the world final 18-14 in 2014, a defeat built on starving O’Sullivan of chances and momentum. He forced him to wilt and wait amid a potting purgatory that left O’Sullivan wondering if he still possessed the minerals to conquer the green baize equivalent of K2.

O’Sullivan performed in fits and starts in their latest Crucible joust, with both hands and haste, yet still translated desire into fulfilment with his usual élan, mischief, nonchalance but most poignantly an unwillingness to bend and break, to yield in time. First in, best dressed. Faced with certain defeat, O’Sullivan was an Englishman who went up the side of a mountain but came down a hill as his long game suddenly became impregnable with several blistering pots and awe-inspiring breaks of 138, 71 and 64 in three prodigious closing frames. Then came one of the most telling safety shots in Crucible history helping win him the final before the final with a rousing finale.

His thoughts of early summer and his promises to repair the damage done by his previous scarring loss to Selby were ripe on the vine in the autumn of his aspirations.

At some point you think, I’ve been here for three days. He’s got the better of me and if it continues going like this, he’s probably going to win this match,” recalls O’Sullivan. “I needed to try to win it on my terms. The only way I was going to do that was trying to play the perfect snooker really. Score big breaks and pot well – I only needed to find a good 30 or 40 minutes really. I needed three quick frames and I could get the job done. Back to the wall, and sometimes you find your best snooker when you are put in that situation.

NO SLOWING DOWN

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In the first 19 years of his gilded professional career between 1992 until 2011, O’Sullivan lifted 11 of the Triple Crown events on terrestrial TV – three world titles, four Masters and four UKs. In the past eight years, he has carried off one every year raising his total to 20 with another three worlds, three Masters and three UKs. All this was achieved beyond the age of 35, a juncture where players are supposed to be married with kids and slowing down. O’Sullivan has never taken his eyes off the balls.

Nor has he slowed down. He is vying with the Thai speed merchant Un-Nooh as the sport’s fastest player with an average shot time under 18 seconds, mainly because his cue ball control is tighter than two coats of paint. His imaginative outlook has buffeted him from the ravages of time with his natural ambition to attack, even in safety exchanges, a key to his powers of endurance. When you consider he also sat out the 2012/13 season between his fourth and fifth world titles, this is a startling level of commitment and consistency.

Davis was on his last legs as a tournament winner when he won the 1997 Masters at the age of 39 with a 10-8 win over O’Sullivan while Hendry’s 36th and final ranking event came at the 2005 Malta Cup only weeks after turning 36. For Hendry and Davis, the hardest part was letting go as their dominance faltered.

O’Sullivan has revelled in punditry work for Eurosport over the past six years, analysis nicely book-ended by his world titles, but he knows where he gets his kicks.

O’Sullivan concedes being in the heat of the battle provides an inimitable rush that cannot be emulated by pills or thrills. For O’Sullivan, the action is the juice in a sport that titillates and torments him.

I think every guy deserves to know what it feels like to have a 10-inch ****. I’ve probably had that feeling for quite a long time now. I think I’ve been fortunate in that area to experience that. When I’m buzzing on the snooker table, the sensation feels amazing.

By playing snooker, I feel like I’m the king of my castle,” says O’Sullivan, who toyed with the idea of appearing in Gwrych Castle in Wales in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here before opting for more meaningful stars at the UK Championship. “That’s the drug really, it’s not the money, it’s not the prestige, it’s just that feeling that I’ve got the best **** out of everybody else.

AN EIGHTH UK TITLE?

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His first major title came when he usurped the then unparalleled Hendry 10-6 to win his first UK Championship at the Guild Hall in Preston in November 1993 before washing up on This Morning with Richard and Judy the following day, such was the fascination with his attributes, audaciousness and speed of thought at such a tender age. For the record, the teenager fighting out of Chigwell also defeated Alan McManus, Ken Doherty, Steve Davis and Darren Morgan on his route to a celebrated victory 27 years ago. McManus – who became Masters winner only three months later in 1994 – describes O’Sullivan as “the most talented sportsman in the world” these days. Aged 17 years and 358 days, a star was born. O’Sullivan remains the youngest winner of a ranking event four decades on.

He will turn 45 a day before the UK Championship final concludes on 6 December, a match he will hope to contest as he pursues further garlands in the sport’s second most important ranking event. His campaign began with a quickfire 6-0 victory over Leo Fernandez which took little over an hour.

Why such an evergreen talent has never been nominated for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year is a tragic indictment on human powers of observation, but hope springs eternal this year. In the year of the pandemic, face muzzles and no fans, O’Sullivan has found himself in splendid isolation in his return to glory.

In the epic book Paradise Lost, John Milton concluded that it is “better to rule in hell than serve in heaven” or words to that effect. O’Sullivan will not notice his surroundings if he clasps an eighth UK title to his bosom at the Marshall Arena in MK, a venue he gloomily compares to potting in prison in Covid-19 times.

It should be pointed out that O’Sullivan seems to be in a wonderfully positive frame of mind playing frames. He has battled the black dog of depression, but snooker has provided a constant and a cathartic ally amid his travails which somehow saw him go three years without a ranking event win between the Shanghai Masters in September 2009 and the German Masters in February 2012. At that time, John Higgins even feared O’Sullivan was not far from retirement. How times have changed.

Professor Steve Peters – a specialist in sports psychiatry – continues to play a key role in helping O’Sullivan keep his mental compass pointing in the right direction. His victory at the World Championship was a triumph for mind over matter when you consider he trashed a Crucible dressing room in 2016 and was driven to a hospital in London for treatment after his win over David Gilbert in the first round.

That’s why I always call it snooker depression because you can quickly go down this hole of searching for something and then forgetting,” he explains. “Your mental side goes and as Steve Peters says about your inner chimp, the chimp is running around Tesco. You wouldn’t want that chimpanzee running around Tesco would you? That’s what happens to a lot of snooker players. When their head is gone, they are like crazy animals. How do you manage that mind to think ‘Hold on, this is getting a bit out of hand now, I can’t behave like this, I need to draw it in’.

The sometimes-tortured genius of O’Sullivan performs snooker rather than play it. He is a sculptor as much as a sportsman, perhaps blissfully unaware of the beauty of his craft, but the O’Sullivan Opus remains a work in progress. Will it ever be finished?

Snooker was his first love and may end up his last. The enduring fascination of O’Sullivan’s incompleteness will perhaps continue to endure long beyond a turbulent reign that has provided more mayhem and magic than the most manic of monarchies.

The old king is alive, long live the king.

Desmond Kane

 

Chris Henry about Ronnie …

Ronnie starts his 2020 UK Championship campaign tonight against Leo Fernandez. Leo is a very capable player, but has suffered a lot of injuries during recent years. It’s hard to predict what form he will show coming into the match

Ahead of the match, the ever excellent Phil Haigh spoke with Chris Henry about Ronnie’s future propect 

Ronnie O’Sullivan can compete at the top of snooker for another decade, believes Chris Henry

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Ronnie O’Sullivan could be around for a long while yet (Picture: Getty Images)

There’s no reason why Ronnie O’Sullivan cannot compete at the very top of snooker for another decade, believes Chris Henry.

The Rocket won his sixth World Championship title this year at the age of 44, climbing back up to number two in the world rankings.

He turns 45 in December, which would traditionally be long past the age of a player challenging for the biggest prizes in the sport.

However, the world champion shows few signs of slowing down and is among the favourites to win the UK Championship over the next two weeks in Milton Keynes.

Henry, who coaches Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy among others, believes that if O’Sullivan continues to look after himself physically, as he has been doing, then he still has many years in the game.

The renowned coach has also worked with top golfers, including Lee Westwood and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and it is an example from the world of golf that has convinced him the Rocket can continue to soar for a long time to come.

‘If these guys look after themselves…I was talking to Mark Selby about this the other day. I was in Holland a few years ago and I had about an hour with Tom Watson, talking about all kind of things,’ Henry told Metro.co.uk.

‘Look at what he did, he almost won the Open at 59! 59 years of age and he missed out by one shot [at the 2009 Open].

‘Snooker isn’t anywhere near as physical, you’ve got to be strong physically because it helps mentally, but if Tom Watson can do that at 59, there’s no reason why Ronnie O’Sullivan can’t be very competitive in his mid-50s.

‘Bernhard Langer, he was going round with [Rory] McIlroy at the Masters, he’s 63! Fantastic! If you look after yourself, and you’re still motivated to put the practice and work in, snooker and things like golf, there’s no reason you can’t go into your 50s and be competing.’

Not only does Henry feel O’Sullivan can keep going for another 10 or more years, but parts of his game will continue to improve with time and he may be even harder to beat than he is now.

Mentally the Rocket appears in as good a place with his game as ever and the safety and tactical side of his game is not far behind his incredible break-building.

‘I think as he gets older his temperament will get even better,’ Henry explained. ‘I think he’ll calm down a little more, I think he’ll stop taking it as serious and just go out and enjoy it a little bit more.

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Chris Henry has worked with some of the finest in snooker and golf (Picture: Getty Images)

‘That’s when he’ll play his best, when he’s feeling relaxed.

‘He’s a brilliant safety player. He’s not just playing safe, he’s putting side spin on, he’s coming off two or three cushions, he’s always trying to get you in serious trouble, not just playing safe.

‘He plays a lot of safety shots completely like anyone else, he’s very clever.’

O’Sullivan has predicted similar longevity for himself in the past, saying at last year’s Scottish Open that he can see himself still competing at 55 years old.

‘I can probably do it till I’m about 55, to be honest with you,’ said O’Sullivan after a whitewash win over James Cahill.

‘I feel better now than when I did in my 20s and 30s so, for another 10 years I can’t see a reason why I can’t play like that.

‘Which is nice, I’m not going to be sat at home getting bored, at least I can go out and hit a few balls and enjoy myself. If I feel like I can continue to play like that, I don’t find the game difficult sometimes.’

An excellent interview with Mark King

Mark King is self-isolating, after testing positive with covid-19 earlier this week.

He was interviewed by Phil Haigh

Mark King says social media abuse in snooker is hard to bear: ‘You just want to rip them apart’

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Mark King wants to see an end to social media abuse for sports stars (Picture: Visual China Group via Getty Images)

Social media abuse has become commonplace for stars of all sports and snooker is not immune, with Mark King receiving the vilest of messages imaginable, and he says enough is enough.

Public figures have long been targeted by online trolls and sportsmen and women have been victims since social media first allowed strangers to contact them directly.

Numerous snooker players have publicised the grim comments that are directed at them and some have chosen to step away from social media as a result, which is a great shame for genuine fans.

King has received messages ranging from the mildly irritating to the eye-wateringly hideous and it is a completely unnecessary stress that no one should have to deal with.

‘I was talking to Mark Allen at the Championship League and he’s come off all social media, he said he just can’t bear it,’ King told Metro.co.uk. ‘There are so many idiots on there and all they want to do is slag you off.

‘People on there will say I played crap, and I agree with them, I’ll have a bad day at the office, but I’ve put the practice in and just had a bad day, that’s it.

‘But you get people who’ve gambled on the game and say, “I hope your kids die and my wife dies of cancer” and you just want to rip them apart.

‘If you want to say things like that, get in a room with me and I’ll smash you all over the place, absolute scumbags. If you’re going to have a bet, take the consequences.

‘I’d have more respect for them if someone said it to my face, I’d probably shake their hand and say, “I agree with you, I played shit.”’

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King missed this week’s German Masters due to a positive coronavirus test (Picture: Getty Images)

The anonymous nature of many Twitter accounts makes it all the easier for trolls to do their work, and while the most horrific messages have an obvious impact, it can be seemingly less offensive remarks that can also cut deep.

King was brought up in a recent discussion over snooker journeymen, something he is clearly not as a former Northern Ireland Open champion and top 16 player, but the comment rankled with the 46-year-old.

‘All these people are just trolls, they’ve got a picture of a dog so you don’t know who they are and you just think, “go and annoy someone else.” If you ain’t got something good to say or worth talking about then don’t bother saying it,’ King continued.

‘A guy recently said I was a journeyman, I thought, “I ain’t no one really, but in my sport I feel like I’ve accomplished more than a journeyman.”

‘A journeyman turns up gets beat, goes home, turns up gets beat, just makes the numbers up. Being a ranking event winner puts that out the water, I’ve been in the top 16 a few times. It’s just disrespectful. That’s why I said I don’t agree, it’s just rude.’

The fiendishly difficult game is hard enough without the added pressure and abuse read on your phone after a defeat.

Matches are not just matches, but how players earn money and pay the bills and they are there to win for their family and their career, which makes the attacks all the more tough to take.

‘All the players try. You practice hours and days on end, what’s the point in not trying?’ King said.

‘Sometimes you’re having a bad day but being a professional sportsman kicks in. You can roll over and give up or you can try. 99 out of 100 will try.

‘On the odd occasion you’ve got nothing in the tank, we’ve all been there when the luck’s against you, you’re playing bad anyway and they fluke a ball and you just think, “Take me now! Put me in the car and drive me home.”

‘The game is just so frustrating. We’re all trying. Especially when you know why you’ve missed. It’s just so annoying, but there we go.’

King is looking forward to getting back on the table after missing the German Masters qualifiers this week due to a positive coronavirus test.

‘Berlin is one of the best ones we’ve got,’ he said. ‘It’s such a shame, I’ve missed the last couple of years and to miss out again through no fault of my own, is disappointing but hey ho.

‘I was playing really poorly so I really put some hours in the last few weeks and was really looking forward to playing some better snooker.

‘This has happened so I’ve had to put me cue down for a week which is really frustrating, but it is what it is.’

With his wife testing negative for the virus, King has been confined to his bedroom in a bid to not pass it on to his family and admits that he has been ‘bouncing off the walls’ in isolation.

He will return next week at a special event for the veteran, the Northern Ireland Open, which was his first ranking event success four years ago in Belfast.

It was an emotional victory for him when he downed Barry Hawkins 9-8 in an epic final, 25 years after he turned pro, but he does not see it as a one-off, wanting to add more silverware to his collection.

‘Four years ago this year, it’s gone really quick, really quick,’ King said of his Northern Ireland triumph. ‘It’ll be nice to get another win under my belt or a decent run in something because my results haven’t been that good.

‘I’ve got pictures in my bedroom, the trophy is in the house, I see it every day and they are fantastic memories.

‘The main thing was having my whole family there, apart from winning, it was having everyone there and hopefully another one is just around the corner.’

The Northern Ireland Open will be held in Milton Keynes his year, as has every other event so far this season as the pandemic rolls on, but despite the monotony of the trips to the Marshall Arena, King is raring to get going and regain his form after a slow start to the campaign.

‘No matter where you are, you want to get higher. My world ranking at the minute ain’t where I wanna be, so, it’s a case of knuckling down, getting a few wins under my belt and my confidence back up,’ said the world number 43.

‘If you’re not winning it’s hard to get any confidence going. Winning brings pressure for other players to beat you.

‘If you play someone who ain’t winning much you don’t feel the nerves like when you’re playing a [Ronnie] O’Sullivan or a [Judd] Trump. You can get nervous playing them sort of players, but players that aren’t winning a lot, there’s less pressure.

‘I feel like I’ve still got a lot to give the game. I’ve got a chance of doing some big things again when I knuckle down.’

King is back in action on Tuesday 17 November against Zak Surety in the Northern Ireland Open first round.

This really is an excellent interview – thank you Phil Haigh – and one that tackles what has become an Internet plague: extreme abuse by anonymous cowards. In sports, people losing bets are a big part of that. Fans should understand and accept that sportspersons are not robots that can be turned on to perform and win. Form is not a tap that can be opened/closed at will. They have good and bad days, just like everyone of us. When they go through a bad spell, doubts and anxiety creep in and often it will further undermine their performances. It may take time, and sometimes external help, to get back to where they want to be.

Before the 2021 German Masters Qualifiers start … Covid-19 strikes again and two interesting interviews

Once again players were withdrawn because of positive Covid-19 tests. There might be more withdrawals today and tomorrow.

Here is WST  announcement about it:

Mark King, Rod Lawler, Fraser Patrick and Riley Parsons have pulled out of this week’s BetVictor German Masters qualifying rounds in Milton Keynes.

King has tested positive for Covid-19 while Patrick and Parsons both came into close contact with someone who has tested positive. Lawler is suffering from a back injury.

All four were due to play on the first day of qualifying on Tuesday at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes. Their opponents – Jimmy White, Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott and Kacper Filipiak – all receive a bye to the second qualifying round later in the week.

The qualifiers run from Tuesday to Saturday, with players needing to win two matches to make it to the final stages in January. Fans can watch the action live on the Eurosport App.

King, Patrick and Parsons are undergoing a period of self isolation and will receive the support of WST.

Since WST events restarted in June, strict Covid-19 regulations have been and continue to be followed, under UK Government guidance.

While we wait for the action to start here are two interesting interviews.

One with Ding speaking about his recently opened academy and his hopes for the coming UK Championship 

Ding Hoping To Inspire New Generation With Academy

Left to right: Zhao Jinbo, Gao Yang, Li Hang, Xiao Guodong, Ding Junhui, Tian Pengfei, Xu Si, Lu Ning and Pang Junxu

China’s number one Ding Junhui believes his new state of the art snooker academy in Sheffield can help a new generation of Chinese talent to prosper on the World Snooker Tour.

The Ding Junhui Snooker Academy opened earlier this year and hosts a number of China’s best young talents, including WSF Junior Open winner Gao Yang, as well as more experienced players such as two-time ranking event finalist Xiao Guodong and Thailand’s number two Noppon Saengkham.

The facility is right in the heart of city and is just five minutes walk from the Crucible Theatre. There are 18 Star tables in total, all spaced apart with tournament level lighting installed. The academy owns accommodation nearby which can be used by its younger Chinese professionals.

Ding said: “I need a good facility for the rest of my career, as I have been practising in a club for the last two seasons. I didn’t feel good about that and wanted my own academy. It is great for the other Chinese players, who there are more of on the tour every year.

“A lot of them are young and they need good tables and conditions. It needs to feel like a tournament for them. There is no point in them coming over here and wasting their time. When I was young I had good tables to play on. I want to see them have the same things and make improvements while they are young. What I don’t want to see is them travel to the UK for one or two seasons and then have to go back. That is no good for snooker or snooker’s history.

“It was so difficult to find the right place. We were searching for over a year. We put all of the tables in, got the lighting sorted and this is perfect. When I walk in, I just want to start playing straight away. We’ve tried to keep a big distance between each table, a little bit like they are set up at qualifiers for professional tournaments. It is like that so if there ever was a chance, we would be capable of hosting a qualifier here. To win tournaments, practising is vital. It is so important to get the conditions right.”

Ding hopes that as well as providing the facilities for his fledgling compatriots to work on their game, he can impart his own wisdom whilst practising with them. The 33-year-old also believes that they are pushing him on to reach greater heights with his own game.

“I can help and talk to them about some of my experiences because we are playing together. When they lose or win a match I can help them to understand why it happened. It is also good for me, because they all keep improving so I need to keep my own standards very high. Every day the matches are so hard and it is really pushing me to improve my game going forward. I have many different opponents to play against, and the quality of the tables is very high. These are things that I can control and I am happy to play here.”

Ding Junhui beat Stephen Maguire in the 2019 final

Ding is now starting to set his sights on defending the Betway UK Championship title, which he won for the third time 12 months ago. He’ll face amateur Jamie Curtis-Barrett in the opening round of this year’s event, which runs from November 23rd to December 6th in Milton Keynes.

The 2011 Masters champion downed Scotland’s Stephen Maguire 10-6 in last year’s UK final, to claim the fourth piece of Triple Crown silverware in his career. It was an emotional victory for Ding, who had been going through a barren spell of two years without a ranking title. Looking back he admits that beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last 16 was a key turning point mentally.

“When I beat Ronnie, I then had confidence to win the tournament. He is the most difficult player to beat. You have to play so well for the entire match to have a chance against him. After that I had a different level of confidence. I think at that point I was probably 80% confident that I could win the whole thing.

“Stephen was playing very well. I watched his semi-final and he was brilliant. It was a difficult match in the final. I just tried to get in front at the start of the game and I did. He had a couple of mistakes. He had been through a few seasons not playing as well and hadn’t had many chances to be in finals. He maybe wanted to win more than me and when the match started he had the most pressure.

“It is difficult because I had been losing a lot of matches myself and the confidence was going. It is very difficult to get back. It was a very good time for me to win. Years go by and you get older, I am travelling between China and the UK and this time it was more difficult because I had just had a new baby and had to leave her. I always enjoy the UK Championship and I will be looking to try and win it again this year. I am confident with how I am playing that I can win.”

Very honest and positive. Ding has matured so much, and so well, since I first met him, more than 10 years ago at the Premier League Snooker. Back then he was a very shy young man. He was very uncomfortable around people he didn’t know, and barely spoke two words of English…

One with Zhao Xintong hoping to learn from Judd Trump

Zhao – I’ll Learn From Trump

Talented Chinese cueman Zhao Xintong believes he can follow Judd Trump’s example by improving his consistency and shot selection, in order to continue his ascent up the world rankings.

Zhao, age 23, has jumped from 77th in the world to 29th within the past three years. He is one of the fastest players on tour, averaging less than 19 seconds a shot, and has already made over 60 century breaks.

He has been compared to naturally gifted players like Trump and Jimmy White. Given Trump’s recent success, it’s easy to forget that he took time to find his feet on the tour and to learn the tactical side of snooker to add to his obvious break-building ability. Trump turned pro in 2005 but didn’t win a ranking title until 2011.

Zhao, whose best run to date took him to the semi-finals if the 2018 China Championship, said: “One might think my style is a bit like a young Judd Trump. He has made a lot of changes to improve and he’s now world number one. I could learn a lot from him, to be more consistent, making fewer mistakes.

“I watch a lot of matches, especially when a tournament comes to the later stages. I could learn from the best players just by watching them. Consistency – that’s the major difference between me and the top 16 guys, or the event winners. I need more experience and better shot selection. I’m not careful enough while among the balls – I can be really good when I’m in form, and I could miss anything when I’m not in form.”

Zhao, from China’s Shaanxi Province, enjoyed a fine run in the recent BetVictor Championship League, coming through two group phases before losing out to Trump in the third and final group stage.

“Playing in a tournament with a league format has brought me a lot of experience as I had to play against numerous opponents,” he said. “It feels like I’ve learned a lot from them and built some confidence.

“I have had a couple of good seasons and I’m now ranked in top 30 and I hope to keep rising. I’m trying to win my first ranking title within the next two seasons, ideally this year! It’s a short-term goal and I’m working on it hard. It’s not convenient to live under lockdown but I feel fine and we are doing well to protect ourselves. I don’t go out much, I just practise and work out at home.”

It’s good to read that Zhao is fully aware of his own weaknesses and determined to work on them and learn from the top players.

I highlighted some parts in bold in both texts.

Ronnie “devastated” that the 2020 UK Championship won’t be held in York

Ronnie has been speaking to Desmond Kane about his disappointment that the 2020 UK Championship is being moved to Milton Keynes.

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ‘DEVASTATED’ UK CHAMPIONSHIP HAS BEEN MOVED FROM HIS FAVOURITE CITY

Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he is “devastated” that the UK Championship has been moved from his favourite city of York to Milton Keynes later this month due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The reigning world champion has won four of his seven UK titles at the Barbican in York including victories in 2001, 2014, 2017 and 2018 that saw him overtake Steve Davis as the most prolific UK winner of all time.

By Desmond Kane

RonnieUKChampion

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan admits he is “devastated” the UK Championship will not be going ahead in his favourite city of York later this month due to the global health pandemic.

Due to strict UK government health guidelines, the 2020/21 season has been shifted behind closed doors to a temporary set-up at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes with players subjected to regular Covid-19 testing at events.

The European Masters, English Open, Championship League and this week’s Champion of Champions event have all been staged in Milton Keynes with the UK Championship set to join the Northern Irish Open, Scottish Open and World Grand Prix in being moved near the home of English League One football club MK Dons before Christmas.

“This year’s Betway UK Championship will be staged in Milton Keynes for the first time, in line with Government Covid-19 regulations,” said tournament organisers World Snooker Tour in a statement on Wednesday.

“One of snooker’s most prestigious events and part of the Triple Crown Series, the tournament has been staged at York Barbican since 2011. However this year all rounds will take place at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, running from November 23rd to December 6th.”

O’Sullivan lifted his sixth world title in Sheffield in August with only a few hundred fans admitted at the Crucible for the final two days, but says playing every tournament behind closed doors in one town is not ideal for the sport.
The seven-times UK champion would prefer to compete at the KT Leisure Centre in Crawley – a venue he berated for smelling of urine at the English Open in 2018 – than being forced to travel to every tournament in Milton Keynes.

“It is what it is, but at some point you want the fans to come back because without the fans it is hard,” said O’Sullivan, who became the youngest winner of a ranking event at the age of 17 when he defeated Stephen Hendry 10-6 in the UK final in 1993. “Listen, you feed off them sometimes and it is nice to come out and play in front of a crowd.

“It’s a shame we aren’t going back to York. I’m devastated because that is my favourite city in the whole country, even in the whole world,” the world number two told Eurosport.

“To not be going there and back to Milton Keynes – that’s just as hard in many ways as having to just keep going to Milton Keynes.

“I think I’d even take a little tournament at Crawley over Milton Keynes.”

WST chairman Barry Hearn is adamant the UK Championship will return to the York Barbican next year.

“We are disappointed not to be going to York Barbican for the Betway UK Championship this year because it is a fantastic venue in a wonderful city,” said Hearn. “The people of York can rest assured that we fully intend to be back in York next year and in fact we have already agreed dates for 2021 and 2022 with the venue.

“Following extensive consultation with the UK Government and the relevant public health bodies, the decision has been made to stage all matches in Milton Keynes this time. It is an ideal venue, we are working with an exceptional team there and we have proved over the past few months that we can stage major tournaments there, involving 128 players, safely and successfully.

“In the circumstances we face today, our crucial objective is to keep our events going, provide competitive action and prize money for our players, and top class sport for the many millions of television viewers around the world who are in need of inspiration.”

That state of mind will not help Ronnie as it seems that we will be stuck in Milton Keynes for some more time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it lasted for most of the season.

Some serious / nice / fun Ronnie stuff

Let’s start with the serious stuff.

Ronnie spoke to Eurosport about Marcus Rashford and his campaign to help disadvantaged children who suffer from hunger in the UK.

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: ‘MARCUS RASHFORD HAS RUN RINGS AROUND GOVERNMENT, THEY’VE GOT IT BADLY WRONG’

By Desmond Kane

Ronnie O’Sullivan has joined the growing chorus of support for Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford’s “fantastic” campaign for free school meals. The six-times defending world snooker champion feels it should be used as part of a wider movement to end the scourge of hunger and homelessness in the UK.

The superficial thirst for success in professional sport is left trailing by the very real hunger for social justice. The very real chance to affect meaningful change in society.
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford and world snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan are among the favourites for this year’s Sports Personality of the Year award – and both sing from the same hymn sheet in calling for an end to child poverty in the UK.

Scoring goals, potting balls or holing putts for a living means little when you consider what is going on in the wider world at large. Real drama looms far away from playing games.

Marcus Rasford petition tweet

Rashford was awarded an MBE for his campaign to extend free school meals for the most vulnerable during the summer holidays, but has so far been rebuffed in his bid to see the government support his calls for an extension until Easter 2021.
In the year of a global pandemic, O’Sullivan has applauded the England forward’s passion in his campaign for free school meals during school holidays, but can’t understand why hunger and homelessness has not been properly addressed in the UK.

“I think the campaign is fantastic. It is brilliant,” said O’Sullivan. “I’ve been there and know what it is like to have to rely on free school dinners.
“This is very important to families up and down the country. No kid or person should go hungry in this country I believe.

“Homelessness has always been a big bugbear of mine. Why do some people have so much yet some people can’t even get a sandwich or a cup of tea?

“I could never quite fathom that out or how that was allowed to happen.
“Unless people like Marcus Rashford stand up and speak for these families who are struggling then their voice doesn’t get heard.

“I think he’s used his platform, especially for someone so young to come out and speak and be so passionate and proactive in his campaign.”

Rashford has submitted a petition that has attracted almost one million signatures forcing it to be debated in parliament.

O’Sullivan feels the government should “admit defeat”, change their position and make Rashford the focal point of the campaign to eradicate child poverty.

“I think the government have really got this one badly wrong. If I was advising the government, the first thing I’d be telling them is to get Marcus Rashford in to talk to him and be wanting to work with him,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.

“We want him representing us as a government and us as a country. We want the whole world to see what a brilliant job we are doing.

“At the moment, they’ve got it wrong. The best thing they can do is admit defeat and admit we can all be teachable.

“Someone like Marcus Rashford is running rings around them at the moment. If they want the embarrassment to stop then the smartest thing to do is bring him on side.”

O’Sullivan – who returns to action at the Champion of Champions event in Milton Keynes next week – is also dismayed to see investment being spent on railway projects such as HS2 when there are people living below the breadline.
Marcus Rashford tweet - poors have no voice

“I think at the moment, it’s about unity. When you watch what is going on in America, there is so much division,” said the seven-times UK and Masters winner.
“That’s never really a good thing. Hopefully as a country at this time, it’s about uniting and supporting the vulnerable.

“With the free school meals, they can find millions to get help you get from the North of England to the South of England 20 minutes quicker yet you can’t find £20 million for some school dinners and an extra £5m for the people of Liverpool and Manchester at this time.

Tweet coldplay support Marcus Rashford

“You think something is quite not right there and again wonder where are we at? How can you not find that money? Yet you can find £100 million for a train to get you from north to south quicker.
“This is a time to support the vulnerable. A lot of people are going through hardship at the moment, and this is when you want your government and country to support you.”

Ronnie was with Jason Francis at the Fan Cave doing a “social distancing” signing whilst answering fans questions.

This was shared live by Jason on Facebook. The actual footage starts after about 12 minutes.

So, Ronnie will play next at the Champion of Champions, Northern Ireland Open, and the UK Championship.

He also names his Mount Rushmore of snooker. It’s “Joe Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and himself” or, not taking himself into account “Joe Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Steve Davis”

This Mount Rushmore thing isn’t a new idea… here is David Hendon’s take on it nine years ago on the Snooker Scene blog

25.10.11

MADE OF STONE

The Mount Rushmore national memorial was carved into the South Dakotan mountain side 70 years ago to commemorate four legendary US presidents.

What if snooker were to have a similar monument to the players who have best served and represented the sport?

Of course, it isn’t going to happen unless some lunatic is let loose with a chisel on Snowdon, but that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss who should appear on such a memorial.

The rules: there is only room for four players. In fact that’s the only rule.

So here are the main contenders, considered objectively, not based on personal favourites…

Joe Davis was the father of professional snooker. It was he who saw its potential in the age of billiards. It was he who began the World Championship, buying the trophy still presented to this day using half the original entry fees from the inaugural championship in 1927.

Davis won the world title 15 times in succession before retiring from the professional game in 1946. His style of play was the textbook followed by many who took up snooker in his wake.

Ray Reardon was the most successful player of the 1970s as the professional game was revived and started to receive TV attention.

He was six times a world champion, having not had the chance to play professionally at the early age modern players now do.

Alex Higgins was a firebrand and a rebel and these characteristics, coupled with his electrifying style of play, brought a new audience to snooker, attracted television coverage and sponsorship and helped lead to a burgeoning professional circuit.

In the snooker soap opera of the 1980s, he was a much loved villain who put the sport on the front pages and kept up the remarkable levels of interest.

Steve Davis lived a much more placid life and was completely dedicated to being the best, which he was for a decade.

Davis has won more titles than anyone else and is still capable, into his 50s, of producing high quality performances. As an ambassador for snooker, he remains unsurpassed.

Jimmy White’s enduring popularity and cheerful optimism in the face of many knocks means he is still a draw more than 30 years after turning professional.

Never a world champion, he won ten ranking titles, including the UK Championship, plus the Masters and has provided many a fan with the sort of emotional rollercoaster ride which means they remain loyal to him long after his peak.

Stephen Hendry raised playing standards and ushered in a new era of attacking snooker. He has won more of what matters than any other player.

There were 90 ranking events played in the 1990s. Hendry won 27 of them, just under a third of the total. He is still more than 100 centuries ahead of the field.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is a rare natural talent whose brand of entertaining snooker has drawn many new fans to the game during the last 15 years.

Perhaps the best break builder snooker has ever seen, his many controversies have only added to his status as flawed genius but his achievements stand for themselves.

John Higgins has proved himself as the toughest match-player of the current time, with four world titles to his name and an almost innate knowledge of every aspect of the game.

Brilliant under pressure, he remains every bit as difficult to beat as when he first emerged two decades ago.

I realise some will argue for others, such as Fred Davis, John Spencer and Mark Williams, but this is the list from which I will select my four.

The first face who earns a place in our imaginary mountainside is Steve Davis.

It is hard to believe now the attention he had in the 1980s, when snooker bestrode TV sport like a colossus – and Steve did the same on the green baize.

He never went off the rails, never shirked from his professional responsibilities and, despite the odd famous slip-up, just kept on winning.

He could have walked away happy with hit lot but, such is his love of the game, that he carried on and is still delighting fans now, as well as providing inspiration for a whole group of much younger players.

Davis was always the model player to look up to. He is to snooker what Jack Nicklaus is to golf.

The second face the carvers had better set about constructing is that of Hendry, who decided from a frighteningly young age that he was going to be the best.

Sport thrives on the fluff and intrigue that surrounds it, but the true test of greatness is achievement. For this alone Hendry deserves his place, but the quality of snooker he has produced down the years speaks for itself.

My third face will be that of Alex Higgins. He didn’t win as much as Reardon but he had an alchemy that meant he was an absolutely vital figure to snooker’s growth and development.

People admired the Reardons and Spencers but they loved Higgins. Many hated him too, but nobody who watched him play could fail to be excited by his charisma, his shot making and his theatrical style of death-or-glory snooker.

So one face left to be carved and, for me, it should be O’Sullivan.

It was Joe Davis’s misfortune not to be playing in the colour television age. Snooker owes him a huge debt of gratitude but that is not the whole story.

He created the professional game but he also killed it when he retired but continued to play exhibitions. Everyone knew the best player in the world wasn’t in the World Championship and it was eventually discontinued for a decade before being revived, largely due to the efforts of Rex Williams.

In truth, professional snooker had two beginnings. The first was under the auspices of Davis in 1926. The second was in 1969 when the World Championship reverted from challenge system to knock-out and Pot Black began. It was this latter beginning which was more significant to the sport as it is today.

Reardon’s modern day tally of world titles was equalled by Steve Davis and surpassed by Hendry. He may have won more than Alex Higgins but Higgins’s contribution off the table cannot be overlooked.

The only mark against White is that he never won the world title, which has to count him out.

John Higgins is a great player but ultimately O’Sullivan has been responsible for keeping interest levels up in an era in which snooker’s survival as a top level sport has been under threat following the loss of the tobacco millions.

New viewers around the world watching snooker for the first time on TV have been drawn in by O’Sullivan, whose talent and changeable personality have created a heady mix and sustained the game in the media. He is, by any definition, a star.

So my four for snooker’s Mount Rushmore are Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Alex Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Something tells me not everyone will agree with these choices.

I agreed with David at the time. Today I would kick out Alex Higgins and put Joe Davis there instead. Of course it’s all about why, in your opinion, a player should be included in that snooker pantheon. Form me it’s about a combination of their achievements and their contribution to the evolution of the game.

For me, it’s about what they brought to our sport

Joe Davis transformed a game into a sport. He set up the foundations of a professional approach to snooker.

Steve Davis was the first “complete professional” in the current understanding of what a professional sportsperson should be. He was dedicated, a student of his sport, and someone who paid attention to every detail.

Stephen Hendry started a revolution. He forever changed the way the game is played with  his extremely aggressive, attacking approach and the way he delelopped the pack from the blue at the first opportunity.

Ronnie brought Stephen Hendry’s game to a new level, whilst also integrating a very strong tactical side. He was probably the first player to gain true international superstar status strongly contributing to growing the popularity of snooker beyond the British/Irish traditional hotbed.

Steve Feeney about Stephen Hendry

Steve Feeney spoke to WST about his work with Stephen Hendry 

Hendry Has Point To Prove – Feeney

Snooker coach Stephen Feeney, who has been working alongside Stephen Hendry ahead of his return to the professional scene, believes the seven-time World Champion will have doubters to prove wrong when he takes to the baize.

King of the Crucible Hendry was afforded the opportunity to return to the World Snooker Tour last month, taking up the offer of a two-year invitational tourcard. However, the Scot is yet to make his first appearance of the season. Hendry’s last professional appearance came at the 2012 World Championship, after which he announced he was retiring.

SightRight coach Feeney has been working with 51-year-old Hendry for a number of months and has been instrumental in his decision to return to the circuit.

We’ve caught up with Feeney to find out how Hendry’s preparations are going on the practice table…

First of all Steve, how has the work you’ve been doing with Stephen been going so far?

“In terms of play, the sessions that we are having are regular. He is going through the same process as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams. We have a fixed plan. The planning for what we need to do is robust. The one main objective is for him to enjoy it. Every session we have, there is disciplined stuff and there is fun stuff.

“He still knows the shots to play. He still knows the game inside out. So he still has all of that knowledge. All that had happened is that the skill had deteriorated. His long game in practice has been phenomenal. I know when I can put somebody’s long game back together, it can translate into the rest of the game as well.”

What do you feel are achievable objectives for Stephen this season?

“Can we do what Peter Wright did in darts and win the world title at the age of 50? Stephen wouldn’t talk that way. He just loves playing the game. He is deeply competitive though. As the work goes forward, I would hope he would believe that even if it is a small one, there is a chance. The first thing is to help him really continue enjoying the game. Such is the spirit and competitiveness of this guy that winning will help him enjoy it more. For him to compete at the top level would be the icing on the cake. If he feels he can compete at the top level, he will probably feel he can win at the top level.”

How much work do you feel needs to be done for Stephen to reach his best level?

“There is work to be done, you almost look at it like a boxing match. How many hours does a person need to train to be able to put up with three minute rounds of boxing? Snooker is a worldwide competitive sport now. We know that there are some strong competitors ahead. We know he will not play until he is ready to go in at the top level. We know he is not going to want to lose and only wants to win. There is a part of it which is making me want to up my game even more than with Mark and with Ronnie. We are having great fun. I love seeing him pump the chest out when things are going right.

“I think for my part we are having conversations that matter. Conversations that respect the huge legacy that he has. To continue it in any way shape or form is about winning. In the process if he could win big, that would be pretty special. Just to see him happy in the game we are already winning. He is playing some shots that he has said he couldn’t play before. I think we are adding to the mix that this guy knows how to win. The other guys at the top of the game know he knows how to win. If we can do our stuff right and he can carry the same composure out there into matches, people will have a problem on their hands and won’t want to be drawing him in the first round at tournaments. I’ve seen the best at work, close up, and this guy is special.”

Hendry after winning his seventh world title in 1999.

How motivated are you to help Stephen to achieve and be a success on his return?

“I look at it as a fairly exciting opportunity ahead. There is a fair bit of responsibility, in terms of delivering on promises. Stephen has trusted me in terms of what I’ve said I believe can be done. I trust in him as the individual and champion that he is. Is there stuff to prove? There probably is. The fans will love to see him play. Many of the pros will be waiting for proof. We are well aware of that.

“There are some top players who will believe Stephen can never win another ranking title again. When people say to me things can’t be done I tend to think, lets have a go. Can he? There is incredible skill there. He is a seven-time World Champion and we will see how the journey evolves.”

When do you anticipate Stephen entering his first event?

“I’d be prepared to wait as long as we need to. As long as the conditions are right. If the conditions are right in terms of the venue and the opportunity, as soon as he is ready, we go. My view with Stephen is that we want to get him back into top 16 status with the standard of his play as soon as possible. That is the only way that we can be comfortable. Every practice session is geared and targeted that way and we are working hard.

“If he was to win another title, or at least if he was to be in the mix at the Crucible. Wouldn’t that be a special thing for the sport? If Stephen making the Crucible again in his career, in his 50s, isn’t special enough for the sport, I don’t know what is. If he was to come out and be the player that everybody remembers him for, or even better, wouldn’t that be good.”

Can Stephen Hendry really get back to top 16 level? I’m not sure.

When Hendry came on the scene as a young lad, he started a revolution. No  pro player at the very start of the 90th had an answer to his ultra attacking game, to his exceptional ability to slot long ones from the baulk cushion, hold for blue or black, and clear the table in one visit. But of course, the younger aspiring players learned  from him and copied his game. Answers were found. Ken Doherty beating Stephen Hendry by 18-12 in the 1997 World Final, with a high break of just 85, whilst Hendry had five centuries was a huge moment although it may not have felt that way there and then. Before that match, Hendry had reached 37 ranking finals, won 28, lost 9. From there he still reached 20 ranking finals, won 8, lost 12. He only won one “major” after that defeat, the 1999 World Championship, he had won 17 of them previously. Hendry was only 28 when Ken beat him, there is no way he was “past it”. What happened? Well, in my oponion, two things: a number of younger players came on the scene when the game was opened, became able to “copy” Stephen’s game and play it at a high level whilst they also developped the safety side of their game, something Hendry was reluctant to do AND Hendry’s confidence – which played a huge part in his ability to be a serial winner – was seriously damaged. Countless times in the noughties, I have seen him start a match strongly, miss just the one shot, and spiralling down from there. And he hated it. It was all about winning and he wasn’t winning.

Can he accept that he will make mistakes, that he will be beaten and still be able to enjoy his snooker? If the answer is yes, it could be very interesting, if not, I can’t see him playing competitively much at all.