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Hendry still loves winning

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Ben Dirs | 16:56 UK time, Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Crucible

I knew Stephen Hendry loved winning. We all knew Stephen Hendry loved winning - seven world titles told us that. But it is his brutal frankness about his love of winning, more than the winning itself, that takes the breath away.

Try to recall all those classic Crucible 147s: Bill Werbeniuk peeking round the partition as his mate Cliff Thorburn claws his way to the first maximum at the venue; Mick Price, all child-like and wide-eyed with wonder as Ronnie O'Sullivan slings his chalk into the crowd; and Stuart Bingham only last week, genuinely delighted to see Hendry complete the 11th of his career. But if anyone did that to Hendry, he readily admits he'd be burning up inside.

"No-one's ever made one against me, I would hate it - I wouldn't be genuinely happy for them," says the Scot, playing in his 27th straight World Championship.

"It's not nice when the shoe's on the other foot. It's nice when you're beating an opponent and you're kicking him when he's down. That's what sport is all about, the only reason for playing."

It is fair to say that if the Olympic movement is ever considering an alternative to founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin's motto - "the most important thing is not winning but taking part" - they won't be canvassing Hendry for ideas.

While Hendry might still sound every bit like 'The Ice Man', in reality it is 13 long years since he landed the big one, while he has not won a ranking tournament since 2005. For the last seven years, Hendry, who was forced to qualify for this year's event, has been descending a "slow, slippery slope".

"I don't put the work in on the practice table that I used to, so a bit of the sharpness goes," says Hendry, whose victory over Bingham in the first round set up a first Crucible meeting with fellow Scot and defending champion John Higgins. "And other things in life become more important. It's not the eyes, I had them checked out and they're perfect, so that's one excuse I can't use.

"But the longer you go without winning, the more your confidence goes down. You only get confidence from winning, so it's a vicious circle. I've got a deep-down belief in my ability, but not necessarily the belief I can go out and win."

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At the end of last season, having been hammered 13-4 by Mark Selby in the second round at the Crucible, Hendry toyed with the idea of retiring. He sucked it up and decided to continue, but readily admits scrabbling around in the foothills of the sport he once straddled is an undignified experience.

"The last time I had to qualify was 1988 and it wasn't a nice feeling," says the 43-year-old. "And all the PTC [Players Tour Championships] events make it harder for me and people with families, but you've just got to get on with it.

"The way the ranking system is at the moment, players are blackmailed into playing the PTCs because there are so many ranking points. Snooker players are not like golfers where you can take two or three tournaments off, you have to play in absolutely everything, the sport is tough in that way.

"But I still love the buzz of walking out to a packed Crucible. And, although I came to the tournament as an underdog and a qualifier this year, I still have tremendous pride in my own performance. And I still expect big things."

Hendry's first-round display - as well as his third Crucible 147, he made a century and six breaks of more than fifty - suggested big things were possible again. To the extent that Higgins, not the previously unfancied Hendry, who only jetted in from China the day before his victory over Bingham, might be the one enduring an uncomfortable Thursday night.

"We've been together in snooker now for 20-odd years so it's amazing we've never played each other [at the Crucible]," says Hendry. "And to play the defending champion and one of the favourites for the tournament is exciting.

"I've not got any form over the past six years to be saying 'I'm coming down here to win the tournament'. But the longer I stay in it I've got a chance of winning. If there's one place I know I can win at, it's the Crucible."

When Hendry surveys today's snooker landscape he denies he feels old - he has five years on the next oldest left in the draw, Joe Perry - but says he feels tremendous pride at seeing the game he created being replicated by others.

"Nobody's doing anything that I wasn't doing in my prime, there are just more players doing it," says Hendry, who won his first world title in 1990 at the age of 21. "The game that Judd Trump plays, everyone goes on about how attacking it is, but that's exactly how I won World Championships. It's nothing new."

Such is the British public's perverse relationship with winners, which fosters an environment in which the underdog is so often king ("the applause I get now is far louder than when I was dominating the game") Hendry is sure to be backed to the rafters against Higgins. Yet you sense Hendry would rather it was like the good old days, when his victories were met with shrugs and rolls of the eyes.

"I want all the glory myself," he says. "I'm a winner and I still hate to see other players winning. I still believe the World Championship belongs to me."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great Champion, but in my eyes always been a bit of a misery has Hendry. I respect him for his World titles and determination, but i'll never be that pleased to see him win, when Ronnie crushed him at the Worlds in 2004 that was one of my snooker highlights. So, Stephen well done on your 147 and first round win but I expect Mr Higgins shall beat you now.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hendry was a fantastic player (still very good of course). In his prime he was virtually untouchable.

    I grew up watching the likes of Doug Mountjoy, Terry Griffiths, Cliff Thorburn, Alex Higgins etc. Then along came Steve Davis. He was quite unpopular when he was dominating the sport. Everyone liked Jimmy White much more.
    Then along came Hendry...once he was established as the best ever (at that time), he became the unpopular one. Everyone began to like Davis a lot more, whilst still cheering for Jimmy White as much as ever.
    Then along came Rocket Ronnie...who did not dominate snooker, a popular player.
    I wonder if Ronnie O`Sullivan would have been so popular had he gone on to dominate snooker.
    Maybe in 50 years time, people will look back on Hendry and give him the appreciation he deserved (if he still is alive...hey maybe he will still qualify).

    PS What is it with the British that they look down on top professionals who dominate their sport? Maybe, it`s just not cricket, what?

  • Comment number 3.

    Well, I guess it's because sport becomes boring when you know who is going to win! We can respect a great champion but most will want to see someone else put one over on them, then when said champion is past his peak it then becomes a story to see him roll back the years.

  • Comment number 4.

    been watching hendry for 25 years - genius!

  • Comment number 5.

    Without question, the best player, ever.

    His matches against Jimmy White were the highest level of snooker I've ever seen. Jimmy White really is also one of the great players of all time and was so unlucky to be up against this guy all the time.

  • Comment number 6.

    Generally delighted when I watched Hendry's 147 live, quite a romantic moment, I let my former dislike escape me and now want him to get number 8. I never used to like Hendry, I was always a Mark Williams fan myself, when he got beaten by Hendry in 1999 I was gutted, when I got a cheap Hendry replica cue from my father I was disgusted and binned that 'signed' photo instantly. Nowadays I loathe Higgins, #anyonebuthiggins is the motto, maybe its because he's a Celtic man, moreso because he's a winner.

  • Comment number 7.

    people are saying his the greatest ever, so the greatest ever says ronnie is the best player he played against, so thats saying ronnie is the best ever or al least an all time great

  • Comment number 8.

    We are all in the presence of one of the greates men ever to grace the game. Ronnie O'Sullivan might still become a legend but for now Hendry has raised the bar.

    http://playwithflair.com/2012/04/21/ronnie-osullivan-or-stephen-hendry/

  • Comment number 9.

    The British thing about rooting for the underdog is a curious thing. There is no doubt Hendry at his best was the best there's ever been, for me the pleasure of watching porfessional sport lies in seeing, and being inspired by, just how good the best players can be. Why would you want to go and watch them on an off-day such that they lose to a lesser player? Always been mystified by that.

  • Comment number 10.

    As long as he doesn't try to put the other player off making the maximum, I don't see what the big deal is. Unless you're close friends with your opponent, I'm not sure why you'd be particularly bothered whether he made the maximum or not.

  • Comment number 11.

    He is the greatest Snooker player ever, when you are and have been at the top for the period he was that will to win will never leave you.

    Problem is as he said his family has taken over his life, he doesn't need Snooker anymore. If I was him I would leave the game and retire.

  • Comment number 12.

    Greatest ever. Glad he's honest about his winning mentality. Don't think he'll win the tournament but if he did I would be ecstatic! As Doherty says, if his head is right he can still play like he used to. Just seems a bit lazy/sloppy at times these days

  • Comment number 13.

    Great player and best there's ever been, he took it seriously and never wanted to be beaten,nobody will dominate the sport again like he did.

  • Comment number 14.

    It might be rose-tinted glasses and all that but I reckon from around 1990 ish to 1996 Hendry was the greatest snooker player ever. At his peak I still think he would have wiped the floor with the likes of Higgins, Robertson, Selby et al. Totally ruthless and relentless break building at an almost inhuman level. Like most people I respect his achievements- but still can quite forgive him for not letting Jimmy win at least one of those 4 finals!

  • Comment number 15.

    Well we can't deny his honesty. I actually wanted to see Hendry win against Higgins in the 2nd round. After reading the above interview I hope Higgins stuffs him! Come on John!

  • Comment number 16.

    I think we tend to forget just how exciting a player hendry was in his pomp - certainly, during the early 1990's when he was winning everything and creating new records for numbers of 100+ breaks per tournament. Much like Tiger Woods done for golf, it was Hendry who picked up from Davis consistent level of play and took it to a new level - hence he was almost untouchable for a good few years. Ronnie O Sullivan is/was a great player too and yes, he played with more excitement and flair than Hendry but thats not to say Hendry couldnt compile a break as well as O Sullivan. For me, Hendry at his best had a superior safety game to R o S as well as a greater consistency of performance over a longer spell. Ronnie has tended to blow hot and cold over his career. So for me, Hendry is clearly the best player there has been bar none.

  • Comment number 17.

    most world championshps, most centuries, most fiftes, most ranking events, most most one four sevens. simply the one against all others are measured and that my friends is the mark of the best in their sport. END of.
    hope he wipes the floor with Higgins, cant stand him

  • Comment number 18.

    There's something rather sad and rather disturbing about this. Hendry was a great player, indisputably so, but it appears that he does not recognise that his time has long since gone. If he had retired a few years ago, he would certainly have been remembered and honoured for his incredible record. As it stands though, there is a great danger that many will remember him only by his decline, and that younger opponents will not give him much respect because they can beat him easily. Please Mr Hendry, quit while you are still ahead.

  • Comment number 19.

    @18
    Are you aware that, not only did he shoot a 147 break, but he also comfortably won his first round match? Not sure that his time has quite gone yet.

  • Comment number 20.

    interesting

  • Comment number 21.

    I was about 12 when he won his 1st world championship. I dont care what anyone else really believes. As far as i am concerned he is the greatest player to ever play. Hendry if you do read this, you did inspire me to be the best person that i could be:) and i am from england!

  • Comment number 22.

    Hendry is quite simply the GOAT. Nice article!

  • Comment number 23.

    Hendry's always excited me with his style of play - O'Sullivan equally. Both are more than craftsmen - they are artists, in their way. O'Sullivan is more self-consciously so, while it seems that with Hendry, the aesthetic pleasure in how he solves the problems on the table comes as a by-product of his sheer drive to win.

    But in either case, there is always a strong likelihood that you're going to see some intensely beautiful, awe-inspiring snooker, today as much as ever.

  • Comment number 24.

    Undeniably the greatest player, although I think the likes of Ronnie and Judd are more naturally talented. Having read his interview, I have to say that if more of our sportsmen were single minded then we would perhaps produce more champions. Anyway whether one thinks he is arrogant or not (given what he has achieved maybe he has the right to be - at least a little), I hope he does well against John.

  • Comment number 25.

    I have to say I am astonished at the negativity surrounding John Higgins - Without a shadow of a doubt Hendry could not live with the precision and sheer matchplay genius of the this modern superstar - Davis, Parrott and sometimes even the most talented player (Ronnie O'Sullivan) are always waxing lyrical about this guy and rightly so!

  • Comment number 26.

    @18
    I think in other sports it can be quite saddening to watch a player once at the pinnacle fall into a chasm of mediocrity as they chase that one final moment of glory. If it arrives then they're a hero, if not then they can be remembered for bowing out ungracefully. Ronaldinho springs straight to mind.

    However, a sport like snooker rewards longevity. Players like Steve Davis have been around longer than Henry but can still compete with the top players even as they approach the age where very few other sports would be able to maintain the competitiveness. The fact that Henry can still knock in a 147 shows he's capable of replicating the snooker he played 15-20 years ago, he just needs to improve his focus and sharpen his match play for the entire match. I personally love seeing players like Henry, Davis and even White still competing, because it's great to see a transition from traditional 90's snooker to the contemporary explosive stuff we're witnessing today. Not many other sports do you see that transition in the flesh. And yet, with all the hype about how much better players are getting, I still think Henry will be a match for anyone over the longer format of the game that he dominated for so long.

  • Comment number 27.

    Would like to see one of the 'older boys' (apart from Ebdon) win a tournament, but with the current crop of younger players/John Higgins around you just can't see it happening. Fair play to Hendry though.

  • Comment number 28.

    ROS may be the most naturally talented player ever but the best was Hendry. The man was a robot. As for his decline and the feeling he should have quit while he was ahead: why should he? He's still able to do a job he loves and is probably still earning a very nice living from it. From the interview above he has clearly accepted his level now so fair play to him.

    As for Higgins - no doubting he's a class player but a certain meeting in Kiev makes watching him a no no for me. Hope Hendry rolls back the years and get's it right up 'um!!

  • Comment number 29.

    I disagree that its weird the British obsession with rooting for the underdog. We like entertainment not just a winner.

    Hendry smashing everyone or Schumacher winning every race is dull and boring so when an underdog comes along we naturally root for him.

    The fact he is a dour scot makes disliking him that much easier!!

  • Comment number 30.

    Hendry was the best ever.

    I have had this argument about boxing (I maintain Sugar Ray Robinson is greatest boxer ever against a majority of Ali voters) and it depends how you class the "greatest" and the way I see it there can be two definitions:

    1) if you had every great snooker player in a tournament, and they turned up playing the best they could possibly play over 37 frames who would win...

    2) OR is it about consistent greatness and winning

    Those who tick both boxes (I would put Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in this bracket) are the greatest of the great.

    For me Hendry is the greatest ever, Ronnie had the chance to win more Worlds but he didn't.

    And anyone who knocks in a 147 at the Crucible is not past it and is certainly not retirement potential.

    Perhaps Hendry could impart some of his mentality to Andrew Murray......?

  • Comment number 31.

    I used to get bored watching Davis win all the time, but still liked him. I Never really liked Hendry, mainly because he knocked Davis off his perch. And of course who can ever forgive Hendry for beating Jimbo in the final all the time. Not sure how a player can be 99-0 up in frames and still lose 100-99 like Jimmy did :-( (yes i know i exaggerated slightly).
    Best exciting natural talent in a player is Ronnie, very very closely followed by Jimmy. Hendry was the best over the longest period and Steve set the bar in the first place. Its a real shame that you couldn't have all 4 at their best at the same time in the same tournament.
    I must admit, i am not a fan of these newer players, maybe i am getting old, but they are not the same or as exciting as the 80's and 90's guys.
    I look at Semi finals and think "who the hell are these 4?"

  • Comment number 32.

    dont know if I explained 1) too well there - what I meant was a fantasy if you like - take Hednry, O'Sullivan, Higgins, Davis etc all in a tournament and for every frame and shot they played to the peak of their abilities who would win.....

  • Comment number 33.

    Agree with Number 24. Hendry is hugely talented, and his sheer single-minded approach to win is what all great champions have. I just wish there were more British sportsmen and woman who had this mentality and drive to dominate their sport.

  • Comment number 34.

    #29 The fact he is a dour scot makes disliking him that much easier!!

    You won't be a fan of Andy Murray either then?

  • Comment number 35.

    Hendry looking good so far

    He will win because the one thing he's never done at the Crucible is beat John Higgins because they have never played each other.

    He is a grumpy sod though.

  • Comment number 36.

    Some very naive comments here regarding "British don't like or support champions". Clearly some people don't follow other sports. Darts for example. Phil Taylor's domination started about the same time as Hendry's and isn't finished yet people support him. The best football teams tend to be the best supported. Jenson Button has a lot more fans than before he won the WC.

    People are talking nonsense. The fact is that neither Davis or Hendry in their primes had any charisma or "loveable rogue" nature to their personalities. They didn't need it as they rightly were more concerned about winning than being popular.

    I have to say I have been disappointed with Hendry's behaviour of late. He has actually become more arrogant and obnoxious than when he was winning when he was actually very humble. He now seems keen to make the headlines for comments which is a huge shame. Hopefully he will grow up and take a leaf out of Davis's book who is the reverse of Hendry, obnoxious when winning but humble and likeable now.

    To me Davis got it right.

  • Comment number 37.

    Does Hendry really think that in his prime he was playing the attacking game that Trump and today's starts are playing? That's just not true. Players all seem to take on pots these days that they never would have 20 years ago.

  • Comment number 38.

    @ 37 Yes Hendry was a master tatician biding his time until the opponent made an error. Oh wait he is the record holder for number of competitive century breaks. Hendry can say whatever he likes about any player of any era because he knows he could beat anyone.

    And talking about arrogance is nonsense, Hendry has the right to be bitter about his decline. He is not a hypocrite and doesn't sugar-coat the obvious facts. True legend with a champion's attitude. It isn't a coincidence the way he talks about his sport is similar to the way Michael Schumacher and Roger Federer talk about their respective sports. Past champions surrounded by pumped up youngsters, but all 3 retain their class.

  • Comment number 39.

    Hendry was lucky in some ways that in his era there weren't too many great players around. Some very good ones yes but not great. Hendry stood alone in the 90's and had no rivals. Had he come along a decade later when O'Sullivan, Williams and Higgins started to dominate the game I doubt Hendry would have 7 titles to his name.

  • Comment number 40.

    #39

    Utter Tosh.

    That is all.

  • Comment number 41.

    #39
    Mmmm not to sure about your post - he was playing and beating ROS,Williams and Higgins in the 90's?

  • Comment number 42.

    40 and 41, Hendry himself acknowledges the average standard is far higher now than 1990s and openly said he would not win 7 world titles in this era. You may of course know more than him but I somehow doubt it.

  • Comment number 43.

    @ 24. not sure Judd is that naturally talented. fantastic potter without doubt, but as Dominic Dale suggests he needs a plan B. Judd against Hendry,Davis etc in their prime he wouldn`t have seen a ball to pot

  • Comment number 44.

    Quite simply the greateast snooker player of all time!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 45.

    @26
    It's "Hendry", not "Henry". H.E.N.D.R.Y.

  • Comment number 46.

    From early on I never took to Hendry, I still haven't, but I have to say, remembering Higgins (Alex), who's style was so unique, as to be incomparable, and Davis who was such a balanced clinical player, White who I think is still the most poetic player I have ever seen, Ronnie who is amazing, a riddle,enigma,mystery,plonker,and undoubtedly the greatest cue-est ever, and Higgins (John) man for all seasons, could beat any of them on his day, I would still say the most aggressive, powerful break building- pressure applying player I have ever seen is Hendry, , plenty kudos, but not love peace all

  • Comment number 47.

    29

    I dont think Stephen Hendry is dour at all, I think the game of snooker portrays the players as dour (via there concentration) but they are really smashing chaps.
    Steve Davis par example.

  • Comment number 48.

    #39 - The reason that no-one could get near Hendry in the early 90s is simply because he had raised the bar! He brought a new level of professionalism and skill to the game that took others years to adapt to. Is Hendry the greatest ever? Yes!
    Steve Davis is the only other player that matched his hunger and winning mentality.

  • Comment number 49.

    Hendry is a GOAT - because Tony Meo made a 147 against him in the Matchroom league on 20th February 1988.

 

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