Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The abdication of a King...

Just two months since I made a blog post about one sporting legend retiring it looks like I'm doing it again.  It seems to be reaching that time when the sportsmen who have been around as long as I've been actively following the sport are finally hanging up their pads, clubs and cues.  The most recent is probably the greatest snooker player to grace the game - Stephen Hendry.

When it comes to snooker, all I follow are the events that are live on the BBC.  If I had Sky then I'd follow some of the other events/tournaments but I don't.  The one event I love most of all though is undoubtedly the World Championship.  The matches are a test of stamina and concentration.  Even the first round is best out of 19 frames - a lot more than they normally play and by the time they reach the final it's best out of 35.  To win it you really have to be playing better than your opponent, it can't be said that the eventual winner didn't deserve it.  It is this championship out of all others that proves just how great Stephen Hendry was.  

21 year old Hendry after
winning his first of seven
In the 1970s Ray Reardon dominated, the 1980s was Steve Davis' decade, then came the 1990s when Stephen took it to another level.  After an initial win in 1990 he followed it up with FIVE in a row between 1992 and 1996 and then adding a record breaking seventh in 1999.  In addition he's also hit three maximum 147 clearances at the Crucible (a record that he shares with Ronnie O'Sullivan).  On top of this he's reached the single table (semi-final onwards) situation another 14 times, making a total of 21 out of his 27 appearances.  That's why he is called the King of The Crucible.  

In addition to this he won a further 29 ranking tournaments (including 5 UK championships) and 38 non ranking tournaments (including the Masters 6 times), compiled a record of 775 century breaks, was world number one for 8 years in a row, before slipping down only to regain the accolade it nine years later.  The stats don't lie, he was incredible - he also changed snooker, made it much more attacking.  Recently the BBC posted about how Ronnie "The Rocket" O'Sullivan changed snooker, which he did, but only by taking on the aspects of the game that Stephen had already introduced - the desire to score big breaks and really crush opponents.

To be honest, growing up, I actually always wanted him to lose.  I like to back the underdog and he was definitely the one there to be shot down.  I think it stemmed from the fact my parents were Jimmy White fans and he suffered more than most to Stephen.  However I've thought differently about him from the last few years, since around the time when he reached Number 1 again.  Back in the 90s he was so much better he made it look easy for him, however the next decade everyone seemed to be closer together and he definitely wasn't out front, but he had the will to win.  He said recently after knocking in his last 147 break (video below) against Stuart Bingham in his last tournament that he would hate for someone to do that against him. That's what makes him different, special, that unequivocal will to win. 

Whenever he retired he was always going to be remembered as a great, however I think the way he's done it is perfect.  It's at the tournament to which his name will be synonymous, he made a 147 break and he knocked out the defending champion.  He may not have been at his peak, but unlike so many players he was still right up at the top when he decided to call it a day.  

It's not surprising that he's decided to stop playing on the tour, there are an awful lot of demands put on a player these days, they are expected to play in a lot of tournaments all over the world or slide down the rankings.  He said it well when he described it as a young man's game - for the likes of Judd Trump, those whom are single and have no commitments.  In this sense it is a shame as the game is losing a legend, but there has probably never been a better time to be a snooker player and the sheer volume of talented players coming through is really great.  

The game will miss him but I can still cheer on Ronnie for now at least - hopefully he'll at least get to the final to give me something to cheer for this bank holiday weekend!   In my opinion Ronnie is the most talented player I've ever watched - but Stephen was the best.

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