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Global Snooker Centre
Believed by many to be the greatest
player the game has ever seen, Stephen Hendry has certainly broken
all records: more titles, more century breaks, more maximums and
certainly more prize money than any other player. His seven world
titles is only bettered by Joe and Fred Davis and their victories
came when there were only a handful of players. There may have been
better potters or better safety players and he himself would admit
that others have more natural talent, but no one has been a better
all round match player. Just as Steve Davis had dominated the 1980s,
the 1990s belonged to Stephen. In that decade he won no less than 28
ranking titles and countless other major victories. Like Davis, his
domination was such that many opponents were beaten before they got
to the table.
Scotland had had to wait a long time for
a really good player to emerge. There had been one or two who had
reached the top 32 but none who looked like challenging for titles
since Walter Donaldson in the 1950s. It is not surprising that
people got very exited about a diminutive 14 year-old who won the
National Under-16 title in 1983 and appeared on Junior Pot Black
barely able to reach across the table. At 15 he was Scottish Amateur
champion and became the youngest ever entrant in the World Amateur
the same year. After he retained that Scottish title in 1985, at 16
he became the youngest ever professional.
In his first season as a pro, 1985/86,
he reached the last 32 of the Mercantile Credit Classic and only
narrowly lost to Willie Thorne in the first round at the Crucible.
After becoming the youngest Scottish Professional champion, he ended
the season half way up the ranking list at 51 but people were
already taking notice. In the next he reached the Grand Prix
quarter-final and the semi-final of the Mercantile. He only lost in
the deciding frame to eventual winner, Joe Johnson, in the world
quarter-finals. Having reached the final of the World Doubles with
Mike Hallett, he retained his Scottish pro title and was up to 23rd
in the rankings.
Ian Doyle, a Scottish businessman, had
spotted his potential and has guided his career since those early
days. This partnership became the foundation of a massive snooker
empire which today controls most of the game’s top players. Stephen
was now being spoken of as a successor to Steve Davis and a series
of challenge matches were set up in which the master gave the young
pretender a sharp lesson. That was however to give Stephen his
determination to win and win and eventually become as good, if not
better, than Davis.
His third pro season gave him his first
ranking titles, the Grand Prix and the British Open. He also won the
Australian Masters, a third successive Scottish Professional title
and, again with Mike Hallett, the World Doubles and ended the season
at number four. Everyone now realised he was something special. He
failed to win a ranking event in 1988/89, his best being runner-up
in the UK but he won his first Masters at Wembley as well as the New
Zealand Masters. Despite the lack of a ranking victory he was up to
third. He has not failed to win a ranking event in any season since.
In 1989/90 he picked up the UK
Championship, Dubai Classic and Asian Open titles adding the
Scottish and Wembley Masters before arriving at Sheffield as
favourite to lift the world crown. This he duly did beating Jimmy
White in the final and at the age of 21 had already won all the
games major prizes. The number one ranking position was his as well.
In 1990/91, although he failed to retain his world title, he picked
up a further five ranking events, a record for a single season.
Among his other successes he retained both the B&H and the Scottish
Masters. In only two events did he fail to reach the quarter-finals.
The World Championship was regained in
1992 together with victories in the Grand Prix and Welsh Open as
well as some six other titles including a fourth consecutive B&H
Masters which he would make five in 1993. By now Stephen’s position
was being threatened by a new generation of young players including
Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins but he continued to win some
three ranking events each year and beat off all comers at the world
championships in Sheffield. Other honours came his way including an
MBE from the Queen.
In 1996 he won his sixth world title to
equal the modern day record set by Ray Reardon and Steve Davis.
Records are important to Stephen and he was determined to win that
seventh title. He looked to be on course in 1997 when he reached the
final as usual. On this occasion however he came up against a very
determined Ken Doherty, who, although very much the underdog,
managed to win 18-12. Stephen was confident that the record would
come his way but the following year he lost in the very first round
to Jimmy White who he had beaten in four finals. To make matters
worse as far as he was concerned, John Higgins, by winning the
title, also took over as world number one, a position which he had
guarded jealously for eight years.
He was very proud of his status as the
world’s top player and set about regaining that position but it
would not prove easy. There were now four players standing at the
top of the rankings sharing most of the titles between them; Hendry,
John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams. He finally
managed to get that elusive seventh world title in 1999 beating Mark
Williams 18-11 but did not manage to return to No 1 in the rankings.
He began the following season by winning the invitation Champions
Cup and the British Open but has not managed a title since.
One department of the game in which
Stephen is head and shoulders above all others is in his break
building. He has made something close to 500 century breaks, nearly
double his closest rival and an unprecedented seven maximum breaks
in competitive play. Having achieved so much and with nothing left
to prove, it is amazing that he still retains his appetite for the
game. Nearly seven million pounds in prize money alone means that
money is no longer an incentive.
He said early in his career that he
hoped to be able to retire a millionaire by the age of 27. Well he
is now 36 and many times a millionaire but shows no signs of giving
up yet. He recently said that he now realises that snooker is the
thing he does and he cannot, at present at least, imagine giving up.
He has expressed his admiration for the way Steve Davis continues to
get a thrill out of beating the new generation of players from time
to time and that he has no plans to retire at present.
Even though he's now averaging only one
title per season and no longer has that air of invincibility, he is
still fiercely competitive. He may no longer be the favourite to win
every tournament and his concentration is not what it once was but
all his fellow players know that he is not ready to be written off
yet and will no doubt add to his formidable list of victories.
The 2004-5 campaign proved solid if not
spectacular. Hendry continued to work closely with coach Terry
Griffiths and their efforts yielded the Malta Cup, and final
appearances in the Welsh Open, where he lost a thriller to Ronnie
O'Sullivan, and the China Open, where he was beaten by the new kid
on the block, Ding Junhui. Reward for all that effort was to retain
his number two position on the ranking list.