Snooker: Hendry pursues perfection after going to pot

Stephen Hendry began his quarter-final in the Liverpool Victoria UK Championship against Alan McManus last night with his impregnability seemingly dented. Is the greatest snooker player of all time fading or drawing breath? Guy Hodgson met him at Preston.

Who is this? A snooker player whose cueing action is being criticised by has manager and openly admits he was not working hard enough last season. Ronnie O'Sullivan? The world champion, Ken Doherty, even?

The answer is so surprising you think you have misheard. Stephen Hendry, the man who regards perfection as a slipshod day at the office and who has spent more hours potting balls than anyone, is the subject of the above questioning. It is as if Shakespeare rang up his publisher complaining of writer's block.

Yet Hendry has not looked the same man since losing the world title to Doherty last May. He went out on his first appearance in the Regal Masters and the Grand Prix and even lost 5-0 in an invitation event in China to the man whose record motivates him more than anything, Steve Davis.

From the outside you could be forgiven for thinking the iciest temperament in the sport was thawing. At one time players were beaten before they cued up a ball, battered merely by his reputation. Now there is hope. Or should that be trepidation because players know Hendry is going to find it soon and they do not want to be in the firing line?

The man himself appears wholly relaxed. He arrived at Preston's Guild Hall dressed in an Eskimo-like coat that made him look younger than his 28 years and quietly scotched suggestions of a decline. Nothing too earnest to give the impression of protesting too much but a sober analysis of his current position. Yes, he had been desperately disappointed not to the world title last spring; yes, he was not playing as well as he can; but yes, the form is returning and might just arrive in time for him to win the UK Championship.

"I'm cueing as well as I've ever done in practice," he said. "People are used to seeing me knock hundreds in from all over the place and it's not happened yet. It will though. I'm not a good loser at all.

"People might say `Oh Hendry is not the same player', but if I was gone there's no way I could come back from 8-5 down to beat Anthony Hamilton 9-8 here in Preston. I made two clearances at that point and you just don't do things like that.

"Just as, ordinarily, no one would even think to question his commitment. Hendry has a fixation with his place in the game. He wants to be the best on paper as well as in public opinion and failing to get the seventh world title which would have put him beyond Steve Davis and Ray Reardon rankles. It normally takes two days for him to get over a defeat, losing to Doherty at the Crucible took two weeks. One reason he lost, he says, was because he eased up a bit.

His is a self-imposed regime whereby he is in the snooker club by 10am and only leaves at 5pm with one hour's break in between. Maybe it was because he reached eight finals and won five titles that he felt he could relax, maybe such a successful season left him tired, maybe he had got to a stage where snooker suddenly is just balls rather than an obsession, but his standards slipped.

"It was little things," he conceded. "I wasn't starting until say 10.30, having a longer break, and stopping at 4.45. It sounds trivial but it's like someone going to their job and not doing the hours. Clocking in late, going home early. If you're doing that three or four times a week, it creates a slackness in your mind. Possibly it's due to age, possibly the motivation isn't there. Maybe losing the world championship what I needed.

"You can probably put Ian Doyle's comments into the same category. Hendry's manager since he was a boy said he had noticed a "dramatic" change in his cueing action in the last six months. "He's lost that flowing action," he said. "That's why he hasn't done so well his season and also why he lost the world championship."

Hendry smiled as Doyle's theory was put to him. "Ian says these things to give me a kick up the backside," he countered, "but to be honest I don't pay attention to it. He will try anything if he thinks it'll motivate me.

"I haven't played as well as I usually do and it's just that, nothing to do with my cueing action. I'm not a robot, people expect a certain standard from me and anything less is not acceptable. I've not been knocking in break after break after break but I've no doubts about myself. It'll come.

"I have dedicated my life to the sport. You have to. Two players have done that, Steve Davis and myself, and we've have won all the tournaments for 20 years. Other players haven't, it's as simple as that. You can have all the talent in the world but if you mess about, don't put the work in, you won't quite make the top. It's all about how much ambition you've got."

And how much is left in the Hendry fuel tank? "Lots," he said. "I'm only 28, there's a lot of good snooker inside me. I want to the world No 1 throughout the Nineties. I've already overtaken Steve in terms of being No1 the longest but to get to the year 2,000 would be fantastic."

Most of all, though, his ambition is the seventh world title. "I'll only be satisfied with my career if I get that. I've never been one to say I expect this I'll do that, I leave that to Naseem Hamed." Quietly, he added: "I would be very, very disappointed if I'm not world champion this year."

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits