STEVE DAVIS will play his 99th match in the World Championship when he cues up against Jamie Cope in the first qualifying round in Sheffield on Friday.
This ties the record set by Stephen Hendry for all World Championship matches, including qualifiers, so Davis will become the first player to have competed in 100 matches if he is successful in the opening round.
This is Davis’s 37th consecutive World Championship. Only Fred Davis played in more – 42 between 1937 and 1993, the irony being that when he was at his best in the late 1950s, the tournament wasn’t held at all.
Steve Davis first competed in the game’s leading event in 1979. Most of the current top 16 were not even born.
It was a time when snooker was becoming big on television. Davis’s emergence as a top player coincided with the creation of a proper professional circuit rather than a disparate series of tournaments. Big money flooded into the game and, as a young man, he was poised to clean up. And he did.
His first world title came in 1981. He won again in ’83 and ’84 and then each year from ’87 to ’89. In between, he suffered an agonising last gasp defeat to Dennis Taylor and lost a final to Joe Johnson.
He could not sustain his best form into his 30s but still competed hard and reached the quarter-finals as recently as 2010.
These days, Davis is the sport’s elder statesman. An incisive member of the BBC snooker team, he enjoys the universal respect of players and fans.
He dropped off the main tour last year but was given a discretionary wildcard in recognition of his contribution to the sport. Yet Davis has always, right from boyhood, been one for a challenge and having to rely on an invite seems to have dimmed a bit of his enthusiasm. At the UK Championship he admitted that he wasn’t sure he should have entered. He enjoyed stubbornly trying to hold back the tide of younger players but the knowledge that, even if he lost, he would still be eligible to keep playing has perhaps made a difference to his mindset.
But… this is the World Championship. This is the tournament Davis made his own in the 1980s. This is what made him a household name.
As Fred Davis proved, though your game may deteriorate over time, your competitive instincts do not. Cope has to start favourite as a full time member of the circuit more match fit, but his form has not been stellar of late.
So Steve Davis sets off again on the road to the Crucible not with huge expectations but with pride of performance intact. There were times, years ago, when the British sporting public could not wait for him to lose but, such is the way of things, when he did start to lose they wanted him to win.
A lot has happened, in snooker and his own life, since Davis played his first ever World Championship qualifying match against Ian Anderson 36 years ago. But the game is the same and it’s the game to which he has always been wedded.
In those early years, thoughts were of world domination. That mission was accomplished and, however he fares in the 2015 championship, Davis’s presence lends the tournament some class and continuity.
One more win and he will create another record in a career brimming with achievements.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.