Where next for Stephen Hendry?

Fast approaching his 40th birthday and struggling to find form so far this season, questions are increasingly being asked about the future of Stephen Hendry. Click below for my thoughts on the situation…

Is it really that bad?

So just how bad is it really? Is it just a bad run of form, or is this the beginning of the end for Stephen?

His performance against John Higgins in the Grand Prix last week was certainly not good, but I have heard various people describing it as the worst performance they had ever seen from him, something which I have to disagree with. Unfortunately he has played like that quite a few times in recent years, but with it now being live on the BBC in a big event, I suspect it has made a few more people sit up and take notice.

For me although his best years were in the 1990’s, he managed to play well and be consistently in the hunt for a number of years after that, but it is in the last two seasons where he his performances have consistently dropped off. Yes he had good runs at the 2006 UK Championship and the Masters shortly after that, as well as that semi-final at the Crucible this year, but in the main things he has struggled to really challenge at the top recently.



As John Parrott said during the Grand Prix, the one thing that is seriously hampering Stephen’s chances at the moment is that his long-potting is nowhere near as consistent as it used to be at his peak. Indeed the initial long red was probably the single most important shot to Stephen as it proved to be the start of countless century breaks. Now that he is missing them more often than not though it is not only limiting his own chances to score heavily, but it is often presenting his opponents with an excellent chance to take the frame. In and around the black spot he is still more than capable, but it’s just getting there that is the problem.


Also by his own admission, his confidence is probably at an all-time low as it is now well over three years since he last won a ranking event title. He said in his interview following his win over Dave Gilbert that the way his mind is thinking at the moment, every time he has to play a cannon or tries to split the reds, he feels like he knows it is going to go wrong and that is exactly what happens. It is a vicious circle though as to gain confidence he needs a few big wins but to get those wins he needs the confidence!

It’s been quite noticeable to me that he seems to start a lot of his matches well, but as soon as something goes wrong, it’s as if he suddenly loses faith in what he is doing. For example in his first match this season against Stephen Lee he made an 81 break in the opening frame before losing the next five, he looked started strongly against Ricky Walden in Shanghai with 71 before losing his way and against Higgins this week he looked good for a frame or two before things really went downhill. Perhaps it is a coincidence, who knows.


Then of course there is old father time. Unfortunately age catches up with everyone in the end, indeed it is remarkable how similar Stephen’s career has been to that of fellow legend Steve Davis in many ways, who himself began to seriously struggle a decade ago. It is inevitable that he is going to get worse, but quite strange to watch at the same time as inevitably I remember how good he was at his peak.

Technical fault

Also like Davis, Hendry has recently said how a technical fault has entered his game, with the result that he is putting unintentional right hand side on the cue ball. I find it interesting that both of snooker’s greatest players are experiencing this, not sure whether that is a coincidence or whether there is any other reason for it.

On the other hand…

Now some of you might be thinking that I am going overboard, after all the man is the greatest player to have picked up a cue and it is only a few months since he reached the semi-finals of the World Championship for a record 12th time!

It is true that on his day he is still capable of competing with most and that he is still more than capable of running deep into a tournament. You could also say that his defeats this season have hardly been embarrassing, losing out to Stephen Lee in Northern Ireland, then eventual tournament winners Ricky Walden and John Higgins in the last two events. Perhaps with an easier draw Stephen will be able to string a couple of wins together and regain some of his confidence, though at the moment there are few ‘easy’ draws in ranking events.

Also why should age be a barrier? Steve Davis at the age of 51 has reached two successive quarter-finals this season and other players such as Dave Harold have also made strong starts to the season.

The problem is that their more defensive styles of play are better suited to a longer career, whilst Stephen hates the tactical side. With his long-potting already not what it was, if he continues to attack like he used to at his peak then it is hard to see him having much success. If he could adapt, as he did during the World Championship this year and play a tighter game then perhaps he will have more success, but ultimately it depends on whether Stephen would be happy with this.

The future

While his round one win in the Grand Prix has stabilised his provisional ranking at number 10, he is just 2,050 points ahead of Barry Hawkins in 17th place, so there is a chance that his unbroken 21 year spell in the top 16 could come to an end at the end of this season if his form does not improve.

That said though it is still very early days and Stephen has every chance to move back up the list of course. All it takes is one good run at an event as he showed last year at the World Championship and he is back up in the top few positions.

Still, whether it is at the end of this year, the end of next year or the year after, with the consistency of Stephen’s results becoming weaker and weaker, sooner or later Stephen is going to lose that place and the inevitable questions of his retirement will be asked. It is hard to imagine Stephen slugging it out in Prestatyn trying to qualify for events and as other great players like Ken Doherty and Steve Davis have found out, it is something of a culture shock. Would Stephen be prepared to do this or would his pride be too great?

Although I don’t know Stephen personally, my impression is that he still loves the game of snooker, still loves competing and perhaps surprisingly I think he would at least give it a go. If he were to fall out of the top 32 then I think he would seriously consider calling it a day, but I otherwise I think he would at least try for a season.

This is all hypothetical though, he could well go on for a few more years yet in the top 16 and mean that this is not an issue that he will have to consider.

Some people have said that Stephen should retire now in order to protect his legacy. It is a tough one for me as being one of Stephen’s biggest fans, I hate to see him playing like he did against John Higgins and I fear that some people are going to remember the Hendry of 2008 rather than the machine he was during the 1990’s. A small part of me thinks that maybe it would be for the best if he did retire sooner rather than later.

But then as poorly as he can play sometimes, he proved this year that he can still play some good stuff and after all he is still ranked at number six in the world! Again as a fan, as much as I hate seeing him lose, being at the Crucible this year for his win against Mark Allen was a truly special moment for me and I want to make the most of such occasions. Once he is gone there won’t be any more so overall I think that it is worth the other defeats just to be there for the good moments.

Ultimately though it is Stephen’s career and whatever he decides to do in the future is completely up to him, not people like me or anyone else who wants to question him.

All good things have to come to an end though, I just hope that there will still be a few more moments of magic yet…