Only intermittently recently though, and a further skin of psychological armour was stripped from the six-times champion last night when he was comprehensively walloped in the second round of the Embassy World Championship. Ken Doherty, the seventh seed, won 13-3.
Only in the later stages did Davis, 39, get anywhere near the form he showed in February when he won the Benson and Hedges Masters and took his tally of major titles to 71, but even if he had gelled earlier Doherty was performing so fluently it is debateable whether it would have been enough. It was his heaviest defeat at the Crucible since he lost 10-1 to Tony Knowles in 1982.
"You can try too hard," Davis said, "and sometimes when you do the wheels fall off and you have to sit there and suffer. It was a marvellous performance from Ken. I was totally annihilated."
Beginning the night 6-2 ahead, breaks of 71, 62 and 65 underlined Doherty's superiority and in the 11th frame it seemed likely he would compile the second 147 of the championships. Twelve reds and 12 blacks were duly despatched before he rattled a ball in a corner pocket.
That near miss might have played on Doherty's mind, instead he continued to pot ball after ball, winning seven frames out of eight. By the finish Davis, whose taking of the penultimate frame merely delayed the inevitable, looked completely demoralised, missing shots he would barely consider in practice. "At one stage I'm sure I was playing with the wrong cue," he said, "by the end I'm sure it was the wrong arm."
Doherty, too, had a slight feeling of disorientation. "I haven't played like that for a couple of seasons," he said. "Every time I got in I seemed to score heavily. I have been putting in a lot of work coming into this and it's paying off. To beat Steve at the Crucible with a session to spare is a great boost."
John Higgins, the second seed, is another who has conformed to the work ethic, reasoning that to beat Stephen Hendry you need to match his capacity to practise. The result was a win in the European Open last month but since then he has suffered three successive first-round defeats. Even in his opening match in Sheffield he was 3-1 down to Graham Horne until he had an inch chopped off his cue and accelerated away to a 10-6 win.
Yesterday there was no need for the hacksaw. Against Dominc Dale, the world No 2's recuperation appeared to be coming along very well as he took a 6-2 lead to take into this afternoon's resumption. Dale, who defeated the 15th seed Tony Drago 10-9 in the previous round, could not score heavily enough and Higgins, with breaks of 40, 85, 91, 77, 78 and 46 cleared up.
Higgins now needs seven frames for a place in the quarter-finals but if his afternoon was comfortable, James Wattana's was hard labour against Stephen Lee, whose win over Nigel Bond in the first round pushed him into the world's top 16.
The 12th seed finished the day 4-4 but it was desperately close stuff that was typified by the seventh frame that Wattana only took after trailing 64-33 and needing two snookers. He might have gone in 5-3 ahead but for missing a relatively easy yellow off its spot. He might regret that today.
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