The fourth chapter of this season’s World Seniors Tour takes place on Thursday with the return of the 2019 Seniors Masters to Sheffield.
Eight competitors will make a bid to capture the title at the Crucible Theatre – just days before the 2019 World Snooker Championship gets under way at the historic venue.
Cliff Thorburn is the defending champion after emotionally capturing the 2018 Seniors Masters crown.
Thorburn overcame Jonathan Bagley 2-1 in the final of the inaugural staging of the event last year.
At 70, the Canadian represents the oldest champion on the seniors circuit so far.
“I’m 70 now and I get a little nervy,” the 1981 world champion said twelve months ago after repeating his famous Crucible 147 celebration when he memorably raised both arms above his head in celebration of victory.
“But I’m just so proud to win the first John Spencer Trophy. John helped me to turn pro and he was a great friend for all of my life, he was a classy individual.”
Thorburn will begin his defence against Stephen Hendry, who made the Crucible his home away from home during the 1990s.
The Scot’s World Championship haul of seven titles remains a record today and, despite Ronnie O’Sullivan’s recent achievements, Hendry is still regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of snooker.
This year is the 20th anniversary of his last success when he overcame Mark Williams to surpass the modern era target set by Ray Reardon and Steve Davis.
Hendry’s performances on the World Seniors Tour have so far been unable to live up to his heyday, though.
The 50 year-old, who retired from the Main Tour after his final Crucible appearance in 2012, has never contested a title deciding match at seniors level.
In recent years, Hendry has been more commonly seen on television as an analyst in the UK for the BBC and ITV.
The former world number one also became a PokerStars Brand Ambassador and has regularly visited China as an advocate of Chinese pool.
However, once back on the baize his urge to win will be just as strong as before and the short best-of-three frames format might support his chances of a potential return to glory.
That said, the man to beat in the 2019 Seniors Masters is Jimmy White after the People’s Champion emerged with the silverware in both of the last two competitions this season.
White won the Irish Seniors Masters at Goffs in January before adding the World Seniors 6 Red Championship last month in Belfast.
With four senior trophies in total to his name, the “Whirlwind” is by far the most decorated player on the circuit.
Joe Johnson will be tasked with the difficult challenge of ending his fellow Englishman’s run in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Seniors Masters.
Ken Doherty was the other champion from this term, emerging victorious in the UK Seniors Championship in October.
The popular Dubliner faces Barry Pinches with a potential semi-final contest against Thorburn or Hendry to come after that.
Doherty and White both still ply their trades on the professional circuit and are undoubtedly the favourites to progress to the final from their respective sides of the draw.
The pair is able to compete on the World Seniors Tour, which is predominantly for amateurs only, because they are only on the Main Tour through invitational tour cards.
Yet, with Doherty set to regain a professional card this season by returning to the world’s top 64 in the rankings, this could represent one of the last opportunities for the 49 year-old for a while to add to his seniors trophy tally.
John Parrott, the 1991 world champion, and reigning world seniors champion Aaron Canavan will fight it out in the remaining last eight affair.
The latter lost in the final of the recent 6 Red Championship at the Waterfront Hall, squandering a 2-1 advantage to eventually lose 4-2 to White in a cagey battle.
Liverpudlian Parrott hasn’t achieved too much on the World Seniors Tour to date, although did reach the final of the 2017 World Seniors Championship when he lost to Peter Lines.
Live coverage of the 2019 Seniors Masters will be available on FreeSports.
2019 Seniors Masters Draw (Quarter-Finals)
Cliff Thorburn vs Stephen Hendry (2pm)
Ken Doherty vs Barry Pinches (est. 3pm)
Jimmy White vs Joe Johnson (est. 4pm)
Aaron Canavan vs John Parrott (est. 5pm)