SCOTTISH snooker great Stephen Hendry has nothing to prove in the sport, but at 51 he’s ready to test himself at the top once again.
The record seven-time world champion dominated the green baize game for more than a decade and won a staggering 36 ranking titles during his illustrious 27-year career.
But in August last year the Scot shocked the snooker world when he announced his comeback after an eight-year hiatus.
And now, having been practising hard to rediscover some of the old magic, the ambitious Perthshire potter is relishing the chance to play his first professional match since retiring in May 2012.
Hendry had been keeping his army of fans and fellow professionals waiting to see which tournament would mark his eagerly-anticipated return.
His faithful support will have to wait a little longer than expected after Hendry pulled out of this week’s WST Pro Series on Friday and it is unclear when exactly he intends to pick up a cue.
But the snooker world is holding its breath to see how snooker’s ‘Golden Boy’ fairs against the modern generation of stars.
“I’m really looking forward to playing snooker again,” revealed Hendry. “I’m sure I’ll be very nervous, but I’ve got no expectations.
“If I start to play alright then the expectation is going to build, so that’s something I going to have to cope with. But we’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
“I’ve been practising a bit, but it’s been hard with coronavirus because clubs have been shut.
“What I haven’t done is play against other players. You can think you’re playing well on your own, but when you get back out there [in the arena], then that’s the test.
“I probably won’t win the first match I play in or maybe even the second match – and I’m probably going to get slaughtered for it.
“I’ve actually been getting a lot of stick off people saying it’s been the worst comeback ever, but I’ve just not been ready.
“But people have got to remember that I always said it wasn’t going to be a full-time comeback.”
Promoter Barry Hearn, widely praised for revitalising snooker after it was in the doldrums a decade ago, offered Hendry a two-year invitational tour wildcard during a round of golf.
A born winner, Hendry couldn’t refuse the challenge and the chance to experience the “buzz” of playing in front of a crowd again.
The coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately prevented spectators at tournaments this season, but a bio-secure bubble at the Marshall Arena – which has an on-site hotel – has meant the snooker season has continued largely uninterrupted whilst other major sporting events have fallen by the wayside.
But Hendry’s return sees him enter unchartered waters with a host of players looking to claim his prized scalp.
“Back when I retired I was seen as someone that should possibly still win and I couldn’t,” admitted Hendry.
“Now I am a total underdog and I am just going to see what happens. It’s going to be very exciting.
“Potting balls and clearing up is my happy place, it always has been. When I turned professional my obsession was winning.
“It’s about coming back and experiencing that buzz again which I used to enjoy.
“I was No.1 for eight years and I won the World Championship five years on the spin. I almost took winning for granted.
“Even now I still think it’s [the Crucible]my venue, even though I’ve only been commentating there. I think ‘this is where I belong.”
Hendry wins the World Championship in 1994
Hendry’s return has also coincided with working with a new coach, Steve Feeney.
Feeney has worked with six-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and many of the sport’s top stars, but he is largely credited with helping Stuart Bingham and Mark Williams both win world titles after barren spells without success.
Welshman Williams famously won his third world title in 2018, thanks largely to Feeney’s help, after a staggering 15-year gap since his second world crown in 2003.
And Feeney hopes Hendry can do something special on his return having seen first-hand how good the Scot still is.
“I’ve seen the best at work, close up, and this guy is special,” said Feeney.
“Stephen is playing some shots that he has said he couldn’t play before.
“I think we are adding to the mix that this guy knows how to win.
“The other guys at the top of the game know he knows how to win.
“If we can do our stuff right and he can carry the same composure out there into matches, people will have a problem on their hands and won’t want to be drawing him in the first round at tournaments.”
After the disappointment of the Pro Series withdrawal, his main target is to once again grace the famous
World Championship stage, a venue which has lay witness to many of his most special triumphs.
“I’m 99 per cent certain I’m going to enter the World Championship,” admitted Hendry.Now only time will tell how arguably snooker’s greatest ever player performs.
You can keep up with Stephen Hendry’s comeback through his Instagram account, @CueTips