Stephen Hendry – In it to win it

Following his classic victory over Ding Junhui tonight, Stephen Hendry has expressed his pleasure at just how well he played tonight and indeed during each of the three sessions of this match. Click below to read what he had to say…

Stephen is quoted on World Snooker as saying:

“It was a fantastic match, I’m delighted to win, delighted with how I played throughout the match, especially tonight. I came out tonight and it was as good as I’ve played this season, the first three or four frames tonight. Credit to Ding, I was in front this afternoon and he came back, and tonight he looked as if he was coming back again.

Having a bad season has maybe been a good thing for Ding. I think his temperament and his attitude looks 100 times better than it did last year. There’s no doubt when he’s in the balls and break building he’s as good as anyone that’s ever played, so it’s a fantastic win for me.

To be a 100 per cent honest I wasn’t as upset as you might think I would be at 8-8. I just thought it was that type of match that even if I was 9-7 up there was no way that was the match over. At 8-8 it was anyone’s game. I was more upset that I missed the black off the pink spot in that last frame when I was on 40 odd than losing the two snookers.

I played really well, it certainly wasn’t a surprise to me how well I played obviously having come through a tough first round match, you tend to relax and then anything can happen after that. The form is there and I was pleased to be involved in such a high standard match. I think all three sessions were fantastic.

Vindication will only come with lifting the trophy, to me that’s all I’m here for. Whether I win it or not is another matter but all I’m here for is to win it. That’s the only thing that gives me real pleasure. Obviously I like to play well and be involved in the tournament. You can’t win it from your living room.

I know what it takes to win here but there are so many great players still involved. I’m in the quarter-finals but I’m not even half-way there. There is no greater place to play well than the Crucible. It’s just a fantastic feeling to be involved a in a really great match against another top player. Just being involved – there is no greater place in the world to play snooker.

I think it was important to try and get a quicker start tonight, it’s the last session so effectively it is the best of nine, so tonight it was important than the other sessions to start better than the other player.

Age means nothing, it’s complete nonsense. As long as you are prepared to put the work in, the form is still there, the only thing as you get older is perhaps you’re not prepared to put the work in to the amount you used to.”

Going to repeat myself slightly here from my me previous article today but what a performance from Stephen to overcome an opponent in Ding Junhui who as he said, appeared to have a much better attitude than a year ago when they last met.

Having watched all of Stephen’s televised matches this season I was not sure if he still had what it takes to perform the way he did during this match. Indeed even against Mark Williams in the first round, though he won, he looked down, short of belief and almost resigned to defeat until Mark’s tip woes intervened. He did play better towards the end of the match of course, highlighted by that terrific 51 clearance, but he still looked to be short of the confidence he would need to come past someone like Ding Junhui.

Right from the off in the match with Ding however it was a completely different story. His body lanaguage was great, he looked deadly focused and totally in the zone – just as against Mark Allen a year ago at the Crucible.

Before the match I favoured Ding to win the match, as did the bookmakers and at 3-1 down yesterday having missed a poor red and let Ding in to clear I began to fear the worst, but a couple of absolutely brilliant clearances from Stephen to draw back level made me sit up and think wow, he’s really in it here and genuinely looking a lot better. The only problem though was his long-potting which was very poor and would have to improve today if he was to challenge Ding who looked to be in great shape himself.

He answered the call today and he did indeed start to knock a few of the long balls in and during the afternoon began to play really well for the first time in the tournament. Even with those great clearances yesterday, he always seemed to be coming back from the frame and every frames that he won seemed to require a monumental effort, but he began to look really comfortable today and forge ahead with an excellent century break along the way.

From 8-6 though Ding responded well and in taking the last frame of the second session having needed snookers, took what looked to be a crucial frame to set things up nicely tonight. As Stephen says above though he was not too concerned at that and I believe him given his body language this afternoon, but I certainly was as I wondered whether this might be the turning point.

I need not have worried though as having taken a scrappy opening frame, Hendry began to find his A-game and in establishing an 10-8 lead, won his 1,000th frame at the Crucible with a 140 break, the 730th ton of his career. Full credit must go to Ding who as Stephen said displayed a great attitude and threatened to pull back to 12-11 at one point, but Stephen managed to pinch frame 23 and in the process secure a memorable victory.

As I say I had serious reservations as to whether he was still capable of playing to such a standard for three sessions in such a big match. I mean sure he still has the class (hell he made the semis a year ag0), and I am fully aware of just how good he is at his best, but he has looked so short on confidence recently that I did not think that even a win over Mark Williams would be able to turn things around so dramatically. Fair play to him though, he is in the quarter-finals now and as he says, will be happy only with that eighth world title.

So can he do it? If he can play like he did today then he surely has every chance, but it is a big if I think. One of Stephen’s biggest problems over the past few seasons is not so much playing well, but keeping it up and performing consistently like he has to in order to win major titles. It looks like being Shaun Murphy next and that will be far from easy but if he can beat Ding Junhui over 25 frames, I do not see why he cannot overcome Shaun.

At least one thing he will not have to worry about now is his ranking which as of this moment stands at 9th on the latest provisional list and 10th on the one-year list. It will not seem important to him now but during the course of this and the recent China Open he has really salavaged something from what has been a pretty terrible season.

Finally here is a little stat to look out for. I heard that before the start of the tournament he needed 2,651 points to reach 100,000 at the Crucible. By my reckoning this is now down to just 525 so surely he will pass the milestone against either Shaun Murphy or Marco Fu in his quarter-final match…