Stephen Hendry
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The Stephen Hendry Comeback – What Was the Point?

Most comebacks in sport aren’t very successful, but the attempt from Stephen Hendry has been particularly bad.

In September of 2020, Hendry made the shock announcement that he was making a return as a professional player.

In one of Barry Hearn’s last major acts as the chairman of the World Snooker Tour, Hendry was persuaded to accept an invitational tour card.

At the age of 43, the seven-time world champion first retired from the game after the 2012 World Snooker Championship.

In Sheffield that year, Hendry compiled a 147 break in the first round and subsequently beat defending champion John Higgins to reach the last eight.

However, a heavy loss to compatriot Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals was enough to convince Hendry that his time at the top was over.

It had been over for several years in fact, with Hendry by that point a shadow of the fierce competitor who dominated all before him throughout the 1990s.

Later revealing that he had suffered from snooker’s version of the yips as he experienced his slide down the rankings, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise to witness the departure of someone who only knew one way of playing – to win.

Hendry continued to appear intermittently on the Snooker Legends circuit, which would ultimately become the World Seniors Tour, but to limited success.

Indeed, the 36-time ranking event winner has to this day failed to win a single title on the seniors circuit.

In 2020, then, the revelation that Hendry would once again be competing as a professional came as totally unexpected news.

By his own admission he was still not ready, but some early sessions with renowned SightRight coach Stephen Feeney convinced him that an unlikely return to form was possible.

While most doubted the legitimacy of there being any plausible chance of him recreating his heyday, there was nonetheless plenty of hubbub surrounding his impending return.

What has transpired since can only be described as a soggy squib, and with his initial two-year invitational tour card soon coming to an end, it’s a wonder what’s next.

Hendry hasn’t competed since the UK Championship in November, when he was thrashed 6-1 by Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the first round.

Even prior to that, he was extremely selective in which events he entered, continuously delaying his initial comeback before finally playing at the Gibraltar Open in March of last year.

A blockbuster World Championship qualifying tie with old rival Jimmy White was arguably the highlight of his recent stint on the circuit.

Hendry beat White 6-3, although both players were somewhat embarrassed by their respective performances, and the former tamely bowed out at the very next hurdle anyway.

There have only been three match victories in total, but the truth is that Hendry hasn’t participated enough to warrant many more.

It has always been Hendry’s goal to make another appearance at the Crucible Theatre, and presumably he’ll give it one more crack in April this year.

But having played so little, what realistic chance does he have of fulfilling such an achievement, and what will he do if he’s offered another invitational tour card once this one expires?

There are critics who bemoan the invitational tour card, and when you look at how Hendry has treated it, it’s understandable why.

White and Ken Doherty are two other beneficiaries, and even though they don’t fare especially well either, at least they respect the opportunity that they’ve been given and enter most events, in recognition of their love of the game.

The Hendry comeback, while once a source of excitement, has become somewhat of a running joke.

Hendry’s legacy will, of course, not be tarnished, but it is a wonder why he has even bothered when the attempt has been so halfhearted.

UPDATE: Since this article was published, it was confirmed that Hendry did not enter the 2022 World Snooker Championship qualifiers.

Featured photo credit: WST

9 Comments

  1. Maybe a tad unfair on Stephen to see his acceptance of the ‘Invitational Card’ as a comeback.
    He always said it wasn’t. He just wants to see if he can get back to the Crucible.

  2. David, you answered your own question: “there was nonetheless plenty of hubbub”. That is exactly the point! The interest from media (and social media) had immense value, both to WST in terms of promoting the game, and to Stephen Hendry himself, who still has endorsements. There were financial gains to be had, and I’m afraid lots of people were duped.

    However, I doubt whether that was Hendry’s only motivation. The fact is, it’s very difficult to retire from competitive snooker. That is why we see so many older players still on tour, and trying to get back on tour (for example, participating in this week’s Q Tour event). Several have insisted they will never quit. They just can’t let it go. Part of the problem is that there is no easy path towards retirement – you’re either on the tour and playing 20 events almost back-to-back, or you’re off and left with almost nothing. There’s no way to gradually cut down, whilst finding something else to do. Snooker is not yet prosperous enough that coaching is viable for all but a few. Until recently, commentating has had very opportunities, with broadcasters remaining faithful to well-known figures from the 1980’s.

    Actually, I should qualify that. There are players who have retired, most recently Igor Figueiredo. There were two Polish professionals who don’t play snooker anymore, and many players from Thailand or China who have been unable to continue. More young player are retiring than old ones! It seems like it’s too difficult for overseas players, and too easy for British players to just keep entering, since all the tournaments are here.

    Do they keep going because of a deep love of snooker? Well, yes, but it’s quite hard to understand why it’s so wonderful getting clobbered every week (Jimmy White is on a 10-match streak, for instance). Really, it’s an addiction to the adrenaline of competition; it’s their pride and their status.

    Snooker needs to decide what it is and how it is to be seen: is it serious high-level competitive sport, or is it entertainment. No doubt Hendry and White do attract interest. When I go to events, there are many people who want to see them play ‘for old times sake’. WST are trying to straddle too many divides, with their Olympics bids and SPOTY hopes, whilst snooker is still generally seen via a reflection of 1980’s glory or a celebration of ‘Class-of-92’ achievements.

    The current 128-player, UK-based, tour-card system doesn’t have the flexibility to get past this. A more fluid tournament structure is needed, which allows older players to appear, sometimes. Yes, change is difficult, but modernisation is essential.

  3. Lets hope your writing doesn’t become a soggy squib when your older David.

  4. I think you can chart the start of his downfall after his Powerglide cue was broken after a flight.Never the same player for me.The yips started and he became a shadow of his former self.He showed flashes of his brilliance now and again but he was never the same.We talk about the standard now but his 7 centuries when beating Ken in a best of 19 in the 94 UK Championship was phenomenal.
    Very sad to see him play now.

  5. i agree with every word

  6. Eugene Caulfield

    Perhaps Stephen still had some fire in his gut – he never lacked that.

  7. Jamie Brannon

    At his best, Hendry’s standard could more than hold its own amongst today’s top eight. His scoring was savage and his long potting tremendous.

    I believe his relative decline in the 2000s can be partly put down to his refusal to adapt his game. The stats demonstrate his scoring was still comparable with his pomp. However in the early 1990s he was unmatched in that department. By the end of the decade the Class of 92 were operating to a similar standard in breakbuilding but they were playing a more rounded game – O’Sullivan started to develop a defensive game once he teamed up with Ray Reardon – and this meant Hendry was at a disadvantage if his A-game wasn’t present. Adding layers to his game could’ve seen Hendry win further titles in the noughties.

    His comeback was superb for column inches but if he wants to make a Crucible return then not playing in so many events is baffling. DC makes a good point about his lack of seniors success. You’d think failing to stamp his authority on that tour would’ve dissuaded him from making a return to the main tour.

  8. I dont blame hendry for wanting to come back, I blame that con artist Stephen Feeney, Sight right is a scam. Ronnie took up sight right for a while n got worse n won nothing. Murphy also in that season he hardly won a match.

    People say williams took up sight right and got better n won the worlds BUT only won cause he started practising more than before and put in effort. Sight right to me is a scam and i feel sorry for anyone who puts their trust in that

  9. Very harsh.
    Henry has the yips which is totally debilitating… But he doesn’t know if he’s got rid of it until he’s in a match situation (as it doesn’t occur in practice maybe 1%).
    He’s hitting the ball as well as, if not better than his hey day, in practice…. so why not compete again?

    The yips is the killer here.

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