There was a time when Steve Davis was arguably the most reviled man in sport. Not because he did anything wrong, but simply because he was so good and Britain, with its illogical distrust of excellence, spent too much of its time wanting him to lose. Not any more.
That all changed when age and Stephen Hendry took away his aura of invincibility.
Nowadays, when the 42-year-old enters the arena at the Embassy World Championship the Crucible rises in a manner that is surpassed only by its greeting for Jimmy White. Graeme Dott will not be rushing to join the acclaim for the six-times world champion, however.
Dott was furious at the pace of their first-round match, describing Davis' tactics as "bordering on cheating". He added: "I can't believe how slowly he was playing. It was beyond belief. He crawled round the table, he went to the toilet after every frame. I shouldn't have let it get to me but it did." He probably should not have let his thoughts go public either.
Dott, a semi-finalist at the Scottish Open a fortnight ago, focused his anger on the first session of his 10-6 defeat, a three-hour dawdle which had to be curtailed three frames short of its intended length because the organisers needed to clear the table for the next match. Quick it was not, but Davis did not care because he established a 6-0 lead with painstaking care to detail and caution.
Yesterday, with shots being rushed at a breakneck speed in comparison, Dott made a mini-revival and at 48-31 up and 4-7 down a memorable, if not exactly quick, comeback was a possibility. Then Davis methodically re-established his command, winning the final frame with typically reserved breaks of 47 and 30.
Afterwards he looked like a man thoroughly content with himself and certainly not in the mood to be upset by a young upstart who was only three when he won the first of his world titles in 1981. Indeed, he seemed chuffed to be getting on nerves again.
"I thought I played brilliantly in the first session," he said with a smile. "I absolutely nailed him to the boards. So there was no need to rush, I was just slowly banging the nails in. Once you've got someone on the ropes, how you deal with it is up to you.
"Terry Griffiths once said that Stephen Hendry steamrollers players and I try to anaesthetise them. That's the way I learned to play the game. It's the way Ray Reardon and Cliff Thorburn used to do it. Perhaps you can't teach an old dog new tricks."
Stephen Lee, 25, is a youngish dog who looked like he needed to learn very little yesterday as he crushed the Icelander Kristjan Helgason 10-3. The sixth seed was 7-2 up overnight and needed just over an hour to earn a second-round match with Fergal O'Brien. "I think he'll win the tournament," Helgason said of his opponent. "He's cueing so well."Reuse content