The day is almost nigh, and the waiting is practically over. On Monday night the Stephen Hendry v Jimmy White saga is renewed, and the snooker and wider sporting public are primed for nostalgia overload.
In the early 1990s, it wasn’t a Betfred World Championship without these two featuring in the Crucible final – with due apologies to John Parrott, the 1991 winner.
So to see record seven-time world champion Hendry, 52, paired in the first qualifying round this year with the 58-year-old Whirlwind, who lost six finals in total and four to the Scot, evokes a plethora of vivid memories.
Both are four wins away from an emotional return to the iconic venue. White has not made it there since 2006, and Hendry – making a comeback this year – not since the year he retired in 2012.
And for all the other miseries he has inflicted on White, Hendry would in all likelihood knock him off the tour with another victory.
Speaking on Betfred TV, White said: “We were practising together before the draw and I was coming out on top…but playing for a tenner a set is not like playing for £500,000!
“Barry Hearn said the draw was fate. I will be nervous, I hope I am because that is half the buzz. We had those four finals and I had good chances in two of them, losing 10 frames in a row in 1992 is hard to address.
“If I could get back to the Crucible that would be a dream come true…but it is doable. I am sorry the match against Stephen is only best of 11 frames, but that is still a proper match.”
Hendry got to the top and stayed there – No1 for nine seasons including eight on the bounce – through talent, determination, dedication, temperament and courage, notably when his back was up against the wall.
But nurturing his career from the beginning as a teenager and through the 1990s era of dominance was former manager Ian Doyle. The draw against White also brought back memories for Hendry’s then corner man.
Doyle says, “I know what Stephen wants to achieve…a win at the Crucible, and he can do that. Maybe not this season, but next season, in 12 months’ time.
“I remember the 1992 final when Stephen at 14-9 down had the chance to snooker Jimmy behind the black or take on a really tough brown.
“He chose the brown, but that was him, an unbelievable shot and Jimmy didn’t win another frame. It knocked Jimmy for six, Stephen won the last 10.
“And in the 1994 final that went to 17-17 and a decider, Jimmy was in the balls. He always said he twitched the black, but I think he got a kick.
“Stephen suffered a broken arm in 1994, and played in a lot of pain. The specialist said he couldn’t play. I said ‘What do you mean he can’t play, it’s his left arm!”
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of talking with both players about their two most memorable Betfred World Championship clashes, the finals of 1992 and 1994 referred to by Doyle, in writing the book ‘The Crucible’s Greatest Matches’.
Those reflections now seem even more poignant given that the saga has been resurrected.
In 1992 White looked poised to win a first world title from his fourth final in Sheffield, having surged into a 14-8 lead. But Hendry crucially took the last two frames of the third session, and as he grew ever stronger the Whirlwind faltered. 10 frames in a row later, Hendry won 18-14.
White said, “At 14-8 ahead I was thinking how I was going to thank my old headmaster for giving me time off school to go down the snooker club and practice. I was going to win. But by the end I couldn’t have potted the balls if he had left them over the holes, I was gone.
“It is a horrible feeling when that happens out there, when it all starts going wrong self-doubt creeps in and you question everything. It has to be the most disappointing loss of my life.”
Hendry, citing the brave brown mentioned by Doyle as one of the shots of his career, said, “After the first frame of the evening to get to 14-11 I looked at Jimmy, you sensed if he was under pressure. He would towel his face, run hands through his hair, hit balls too hard and sweat more.
“I was in my groove. And when I was in the zone, I could frighten other players. It was very satisfying to come back from that far down and get 10 frames in a row. It made you feel invincible.”
In White’s sixth and what was to prove last Crucible final in 1994, it was the horror of a missed black off the spot when well set in the decider that cost him dearly as Hendry leapt out of his chair to clear up and win 18-17.
White, who afterwards came out with the unforgettable line ‘He’s beginning to annoy me’ after a fourth final defeat to the Scot, said, “It is a massive twitch on the black, like you get the yips in golf when putting. It is amazing though…I still have to console other people now almost on a daily basis.
“You realise there were others almost more upset and disappointed than you were. But no one should feel sorry for me. I have had a hoot at this game.”
Hendry recalled, “The atmosphere in that last frame was fantastic. I am not expecting Jimmy to miss, I thought it was gone. And when he missed the black, I have never got out of my chair faster.”