Stephen Hendry plans to play on - but admits a fear of being embarrassed saw him decide not to enter this year’s Betfred World Championship qualifiers.
The record seven-time world champion’s comeback in 2020 after eight years retired has been largely underwhelming and seen Hendry win just three matches.
And when the Scottish snooker legend opted not to try and pull off a dream return to the Crucible in Sheffield, fears mounted he might even call it a day once more.
But the winner of 36 ranking titles, who hasn’t played on tour since November, is praying that World Snooker and the WPBSA between them grant him another two-year invitational tour wildcard in the summer.
Hendry seems almost certain to get one for his stellar career and achievements - even though bosses are privately slightly disappointed he has not entered more tournaments.
Hendry, 53 and now ranked 107 in the world, said speaking on ITV4 during the Tour Championship: “I still intend to play, and hopefully I can play some events next season. I enjoyed being back out there.
“The British Open was a highlight, winning a match in front of a packed crowd – that was a great atmosphere and great fun. So it is not over yet – and there is still a little bit of fire in the belly.
“I didn’t enter the World Championship qualifiers because I hadn’t been practising enough. And as I have found in some of the matches I have played, if you don’t put the work in then you won’t do yourself any justice.
“I have no expectations of winning tournaments but just want to be a bit competitive. And I didn’t want to turn up to the world championship not having played much, probably lose 6-0 or 6-1 and everyone say ‘What are you doing?’ So I chose to leave it this year.”
Irish legend Ken Doherty is in the qualifying draw that was leaked early on Tuesday attempting to make it back to the Crucible 25 years after winning his only world title – beating Hendry in the final.
The 52-year-old must win three matches, starting with the winner of the tie between Ng On Yee and Rory McLeod.
He said: “I am disappointed that Stephen is not in it…it would have been nice to renew our rivalry after 25 years! He is a lot older than me, anyway…but it is great to be going back and playing the qualifiers.
“It is always exciting when the World Championship comes around, there is a real buzz in the city and I am really looking forward to playing there. It was 1990 when I turned professional, Stephen is of course a lot older – well, a few months, anyway.
“Snooker has defined my life - what it has given me, the people I have met, the places I have been to, and the friends that I have made. And of course for me, 1997 was the highlight.
“When I started and saw Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor winning the World Championship, they were my inspirations to pick up a cue and try and emulate them. So to beat Stephen to win it, the greatest player of our era, was the icing on the cake.”
If Doherty was to come through that first test, he would then have to play former Crucible semi-finalist David Gilbert, with Anthony Hamilton a possible opponent in the tense ‘Judgment Day’ final round of qualifying.
In other matches and sections of the draw to catch the eye on Tuesday, six-time Crucible runner-up and perennial crowd favourite Jimmy White must win four matches and starts against Andrew Pagett of Wales. If he came through that, stiffer tests would await in the form of Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Jak Jones and then perhaps Matt Selt.
Ricky Walden and Hossein Vafaei, both having to win only two matches to get to the Crucible, both look to have solid chances and have been treated reasonably well in the draw.
The four women players in qualifying – two professionals, and two amateur wildcards – had mixed fortunes. Reanne Evans will first have to play Lee Walker, often the slowest player on tour. If the 12-times women’s world champion won that, the path gets very tough with Tian Pengfei, Ding Junhui and Kurt Maflin lurking ahead. The potential final qualifier between Ding and Maflin is a stand-out possibility.
On Yee, the second of the women tour players, must beat another slow player, Rory McLeod, to earn a match against former champion Doherty.
New women’s world champion Nutcharut Wongharuthai from Thailand would have to beat Duane Jones, Dominic Dale, Liang Wenbo and then maybe Lu Ning to get to the final stages, while Rebecca Kenna of Yorkshire takes on Gerard Greene, with Matthew Stevens and Sam Craigie looming, and a final tie possibly against Ali Carter.
There will be plenty of goodwill for Ukrainians Iulian Boiko and Anton Kazakov given current world events, and Si Jiahui – back on tour next season – looks a totally different prospect second time around.
Hong Kong’s Marco Fu, a winner of three ranking titles, plays his first match for two years after remaining in his home country throughout Covid. And former winner Graeme Dott and Stephen Maguire will be expected to come through by many. Only Sussex’s Mark Davis has qualified for the Crucible more times than Dott.