STEPHEN Hendry hinted during an interview on talkSPORT that he might be prepared to make what would be a sensational comeback out of retirement under certain circumstances.
There is no doubt that the return of the seven-time world champion and arguably the greatest player in snooker’s history would be a massive story.
And the fact that Hendry has even raised the possibility suggests certain things, even if the Scottish legend would not necessarily admit them himself.
During his commentary and studio stints with the BBC since calling it a day on the table in 2012, as well as in other media, Hendry has consistently maintained the standard at the top is not the highest it has ever been.
Like most people he accepts that the overall standard is far higher, and the strength in depth far greater – but he is not alone in claiming that what is being produced top eight or 10 is not what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams have claimed the same.
So that arguable point of view may be behind his comments, along with the simple phenomenon, experienced by so many sportsmen and women who have retired, of missing the buzz on the big occasions and finals, and when they see the trophies being handed out.
However, as soon as the exciting prospect was raised, given Hendry’s own restrictions, it appeared to be shot down again by World Snooker Barry Hearn.
The return of Hendry would offer Hearn and his sport a great story, and generate huge amounts of generally positive media coverage, so he is never going to be against it on principle. But if he hasn’t bent the rules for O’Sullivan, he is never going to bend them for Hendry now.
The sport’s supremo made it very clear that the only way Hendry can get back on tour is via the Qualifying School in May, or the PTC events, both of which Hendry has said he will not attend. That appears to rule out ranking tournaments.
The only exception to that might be if China, where Hendry spends a lot of time and is popular, asked that one of their wild-cards at major tournaments be handed to the 45-year-old. That would mean going against their current stance of encouraging Chinese youngsters, and might lead to a disagreement with World Snooker.
That leaves the Masters and the Champion of Champions next year. Hearn once gave Jimmy White a controversial wild-card for the Masters after a stint in the jungle, it caused resentment among higher-ranked tour professionals and it is highly unlikely this would happen again.
The Champion of Champions, with hardly anyone bar O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson qualified on major event wins, is a more obvious route to shoehorn Hendry back into the fray, but Hearn made it clear this week that he is not prepared to put short-term publicity ahead of long-term damage to the structure of the sport, and fairness to other tour players.
Hendry has previously denied he was planning a full comeback or that he had any plans to enter this year’s World Championship qualification process, the deadline for which has now passed. Hendry has not entered, not least because the rule allowing ‘non-tour’ players but still WPBSA members has now lapsed. Only ‘top-up’ amateurs from Q-School can join the process.
So nice idea as it might seem, a full comeback looks a long way off. And apart from ‘will he come back’, should he come back? Hendry’s departure was dignified and his 147 at the Crucible in 2012 was timed almost to order as a parting gift to the game after years of frustration and struggle trying to live up to his greatest achievements.
Maybe that was the best note on which to bring down the curtain.
Photographs courtesy of Monique Limbos