Stephen Hendry will be plunged straight into a snooker "rat race" when he returns to the professional circuit, according to world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Hendry last played a competitive match on the main tour at the 2012 World Championship quarter-finals when he announced his retirement following a 13-2 filleting by fellow Scot Stephen Maguire.
- Stephen Hendry wants to temper expectations, but believes he can compete
- Why 'incredible' Stephen Hendry could shock snooker world
'A special place in sport' – Why World Championship must stay at Crucible
After receiving a two-year invitational tour card alongside fellow green baize icons Jimmy White and Ken Doherty, the seven-times world champion had hoped to return at the Welsh Open (15-21 February LIVE on Eurosport) at Celtic Manor only to discover his online entry form had not been received by the tournament organisers.
"Very disappointed I’m not playing in the Welsh Open,” he said on Friday.
"I did enter as soon as entry opened online, must have been a glitch in system, however. I found out the other night I wasn’t in it, gutted as I was really looking forward to playing," commented Hendry, who won the first Welsh Open with a 9-3 win over Darren Morgan in 1992 before claiming further victories in 1997 and 2003.
'Don’t get any harder than that' - O'Sullivan pots astonishing shot
The Gibraltar Open (1-7 March) is the last ranking event open to all tour professionals before the World Championship qualifiers begin on 7 April in Sheffield, but Hendry has not outlined his plans after withdrawing from the WST Pro Series event last month.
Whenever or wherever Hendry touches down, 37-times ranking event winner O'Sullivan feels his old rival's celebrated return at the age of 52 will not be a romantic occasion due to the dog-eat-dog nature of the sport.
The world number three is adamant Hendry, who he first faced in Dubai in 1993 when Hendry was then a three-times world champion, is returning to a much-changed landscape that no longer offers any of the top players protection through ranking points.
"It’s okay picking and choosing your tournaments, but when you go down that route you have to do well in them otherwise you don’t ever seem to be climbing the rankings," O'Sullivan told Eurosport.
"I don’t think rankings are anywhere near as important as they used to be. Being in a tiered system, reaching the top 16 was always an ambition of a player so you could step out of that rat race if you like.
But now there is no tiered system, everybody is in the rat race and they all come in at round one.
"There is now no point in being a top 16 player. If you play, you win and if you don’t, you go home. You really have to win matches."
Hendry retired in 2012 after growing increasingly exasperated with the dwindling standard of his performances. He endured a seven-year title drought with his last ranking event victory coming at the 2005 Malta Cup.
The Scotsman has rediscovered his passion for the sport after working with Stephen Feeney, whose celebrated SightRight method helped Mark Williams win a third world title at the age of 43 in 2018 and O'Sullivan end a seven-year wait to claim his sixth Crucible title last August.
O'Sullivan feels Feeney's work ethic will have a positive effect on Hendry's ambition to be a competitive force at the highest level.
"It’s a good method. It’s definitely worth exploring if you are a snooker player. Stephen Feeney is great to work with and gets you really motivated," said O'Sullivan.
"It gives you a bit of structure to your practice. It’s all about ball striking, cue action and alignment.
"It’s always good to explore different ways of achieving the perfect cue action and I think Stephen is super excited that he can work with Steve.
"I think Stephen needed that. He needed someone with Feeney’s passion to get him back working hard.
There is a lot of hard work ahead for Stephen. It’s going to be tough for him, but if anybody can do it and give it a go it will be Hendry.
- - -
The 2021 Snooker Shoot Out is live and exclusive on Eurosport, eurosport.co.uk and the Eurosport app. You can watch every moment live.
Has any pool player conquered snooker? Trump set to take plunge in Atlantic City
Who does Stuart 'Ball-Run' Bingham rate the snooker GOAT?