Is Stephen Hendry set to quit comeback after opting out of 2022 World Snooker Championship? Will Scotsman retire again?
Stephen Hendry's future as a player is in doubt after he opted out of entering the World Championship qualifiers at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield next month. The seven-time Crucible winner returned to the sport a year ago after a nine-year absence. He declared his aim was to qualify for the event he dominated in the 1990s, but could be on the brink of abandoning his comeback plans.
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Stephen Hendry has opted out of entering the World Snooker Championship qualifiers at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield (4-13 April LIVE on Eurosport) only 12 months after returning to the sport following a nine-year absence.
The seven-time world champion accepted a two-year wild card from former World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn at the outset of the 2020/21 season and played his first match since the 2012 World Championship when he lost 4-1 to Matthew Selt in the Gibraltar Open first round in Milton Keynes last March, making his 776th career century in winning his only frame of the contest.
The deadline to enter the sport's blue-chip event was Monday at lunchtime, but the Scotsman has opted against playing as he continues his work as a TV pundit away from the table with the 46th World Championship at the Crucible staged between 16 April-2 May LIVE on Eurosport.
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Hendry had stated his main aim was to come through four qualifying rounds to return to the Crucible, scene of his finest moments in the sport, when he embarked upon his comeback after working with much-lauded SightRight coach Stephen Feeney.
"I know that kind of means nothing, but when I first started with Stephen Feeney, I wanted to get back to enjoying playing snooker again even if it was on the practice table," said Hendry in November.
"The ultimate goal is to play one more match at the Crucible. To qualify for that would be incredible. All these matches are part of the process, and getting me comfortable in arenas again.
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"One thing you never stop missing as a sportsman is the buzz you get from a crowd. I'm enjoying the process."
The 53-year-old Scotsman won 70 matches from 90 played at the Crucible between 1986 and 2012 when he appeared 27 times and lifted the world trophy on seven occasions in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999.
He retired as a player following a 13-2 loss to fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in the World Championship last eight a decade ago disillusioned with the standard of his play, but the old problems have clearly not gone away as he toils to replicate the consistency of his peak years.
He defeated fellow wild card competitor Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White 6-3 in the world qualifiers last April in an eminently forgettable contest, the man he toppled in four world finals, but lost 6-1 to Xu Si in the second round. This season has brought little joy.
Despite wins over Chris Wakelin (3-2) at the British Open and Michael White (4-1) at the English Open, Hendry has not gone beyond the last 64 of six events entered.
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He last played a competitive match on the main tour in November, losing 6-1 to Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the first round of the UK Championship when the Thai speed merchant compiled five century breaks and two half centuries to illustrate the strength in depth of the professional World Snooker Tour.
It is unclear if Hendry will be offered another wild card to continue playing or if he will accept it.
"Hopefully, if I can keep getting better and keep improving, my technique becomes reliable and I can get to a better pace, then next year will be the goal to get back to the Crucible," he said after his win over old foe White last year.
"I will try to keep expectations low...the animal that I am, if I start to get form, then the expectations will rise. At the moment it is about trying to get back to playing some good snooker."
His great rival Ronnie O'Sullivan needs one world title to equal Hendry's haul of seven, but will overtake him as the Sheffield venue's most prolific match winner since the inception of the modern televised era in 1977 if he reaches the quarter-finals this year.
O'Sullivan stands on 69 wins from 92 matches played between 1993 and 2021.
Stephen Hendry: Key records
Ranking title wins: 36
World titles: 7
UK titles: 5
Masters titles: 6
Crucible match wins: 70
Crucible win percentage: 77.78%
Career win percentage: 68.54%
Crucible centuries: 156
Career Centuries: 776
Crucible 147s: 3
Career 147s: 11
Years as World No. 1: 9
Age winning first ranking title: 18 (1987 Grand Prix)
Age winning first world title: 21 (1990 World Championship)
Age winning last ranking title: 36 (2005 Malta Cup)