Snooker: Hendry driven by history

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CHI CHI RODRIGUEZ was talking about Jack Nicklaus when he said "he became a legend in his spare time", but he could have applied it to Stephen Hendry. Give him a minute and he would go to pot.

Maybe the old drive is not quite there in the lesser events, but put the 30-year-old six-times champion anywhere near Sheffield and the old predatory instincts return. The Embassy World Snooker Championships begin today and it can be assured that Hendry has not lined up a shot this season without studying its pertinence to this tournament.

It is history he is after, and he will get that if he wins at The Crucible again and becomes the first modern player to win seven titles. It would be one more than Ray Reardon and Steve Davis and would put his name in the record books for the future as clearly as it resides in present minds. It is the principal, if not the only, reason why he still puts in the hours of graft.

"It is my burning ambition," Hendry said, which, for a man who last showed an emotion in public when the midwife welcomed him into the world with a smack, is a fair indication of an inferno within. He can no longer swagger round the snooker circuit with the air of near-invincibility but he is still a formidable opponent. He has won two tournaments this season and, if he can regain the mental rigidity of his 20s, he will take some stopping.

"There is nothing much wrong with my game," he said, "it's just my concentration that lets me down occasionally. If I don't get that right it will show up even more in the longer-frame matches at Sheffield." It would be a shock if Hendry's mind does not focus properly if he gets past a potentially difficult first-round opponent, Paul Hunter.

A rock-solid Hendry could meet an opponent in the semi-finals whose own mother would not even testify to his concentration, Ronnie O'Sullivan. Indeed, it would be a fascinating confrontation between a man who squeezed the last drop from his body and another who sometimes seems hell bent on wastefully haemorrhaging his gift.

Mention of his mother is appropriate because Maria O'Sullivan is likely to accompany her son to Sheffield this week to give him a much-needed guiding hand. "I've been practising really hard since Christmas," he said, "and I started to reap some of the benefits. I've not been there mentally this season, but I'm trying to get things right in my head." Not before time.

The fear is O'Sullivan could end up, like Jimmy White, tantalisingly close but not quite disciplined enough to win the prize his brilliance deserves. The "Whirlwind" has qualified for The Crucible and renews his relationship with romantics everywhere with the outstanding match of the first round against the eighth seed, Alan McManus.

"The Crucible always brings the best out of me," White said, "and no one will be trying harder than me to win the title." Sadly, everyone else will almost certainly have worked harder before they got there.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Sheffield): Today: 10am: J Higgins v G Greene; A Hamilton v C Small. 2.30pm: N Bond v D Dale; J Parrott v T Murphy. 7pm: Higgins v Greene; T Drago v F O'Brien.

Tomorrow: 10am: Hamilton v Small; Bond v Dale. 2.30pm: K Doherty v S James; Drago v O'Brien. 7pm: A Robidoux v N Walker; Parrott v Murphy.