Fancy meeting you again - snooker legends Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White collide

Crucible legends Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White will roll back the years tonight when they meet in the Betfred World Championship.

1994:  Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White shake hands before the Embassy World Championship Final at the Crucible Theatre. Picture: Allsport
1994: Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White shake hands before the Embassy World Championship Final at the Crucible Theatre. Picture: Allsport

But 27 years after the pair last contested a final together at the famous Sheffield theatre, Hendry and White will walk out this evening in less glamorous surroundings at the nearby English Institute of Sport.

The duo – with a combined aged of 110 – have been drawn together in the opening qualifying round in their bid to join the world’s top 16 at the Crucible on April 17.

It will be a far cry from the quartet of showpiece finals they competed in during the Nineties – Hendry winning all four on his way to a record seven Crucible crowns, while White lost all six of his final appearances.

Champion: Stephen Hendry poses with the trophy. Picture: PA

Hendry may have been retired for nine years – he made his return to the baize at last month’s Gibraltar Open – but there is no doubting the 52-year-old retains the ruthless demeanour which saw him dominate snooker for a decade.

If snooker fans thought the Scot may have mellowed after retirement, Hendry reminded us all of his winning mentality in a pre-match interview.

Asked if he had any regrets that perennial Crucible runner-up White – crowd favourite and the ‘People’s Champion’ – had never won a world title, his response was pure Stephen Hendry

“No, why would I?” Hendry answered. “It’s nothing to do with me. It’s sport, you are not about cheering other people, it’s an individual sport.

“He was my hero when I first started playing, watching him in the final against Steve Davis.

“I wanted him to win because he was my hero. But once I am a professional snooker player, it’s not down to me. I love Jimmy, I think he’s a great guy, you couldn’t meet a nicer guy. No-one has a bad word to say about him. But at the end of the day, we are all out there trying to win, it’s not my job to feel sorry or regret for anyone else.”

If Hendry won all the titles, the ‘Whirlwind’ – like fellow entertainers Alex Higgins and later, Ronnie O’Sullivan – earned the adulation of a snooker public.

So was Hendry – who played 58-year-old White seven times at the Crucible between 1988 and 1998 – envious of that support from fans?

“There were times when I was a little bit envious,” he admitted, in an interview with World Snooker. “There were times in finals when I would walk out to boos, he had 99.9 per cent of the crowd with him.

“It spurred me on, made me more determined to win. But there were times when you thought ‘it would be nice to be popular’.

“I am sure if you ask Jimmy, he would swap that popularity for having a world title under his arm,” added Hendry, who beat White in the final in 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1994.

So which was Hendry’s favourite final?

“My favourite one personally was 18-5, that whole Championship I felt like I played some of my best snooker,” he recalled.

“To finish a final a session early, is something I had seen Steve [Davis] do. It was something that I wanted to do.

“It didn’t matter who was in the other seat, it was something I wanted to do, to prove my dominance in the game.

“That final probably gives me the best satisfaction, in terms of performance.

“The one at 17-17 was obviously one of the best clearances I have ever made, in my career, under pressure to win.

“Then 14-8 down to win 10 frames in a row, and then you have the first one where I won my first world title.”

This week, one of the pair will need to win four matches simply to qualify for the Crucible.

Having trained together recently – at least before the qualifying draw was made – the duo know each other’s game well.

“I am really looking forward to it, it’s a dream draw,” said Hendry.

“We just know each other so well, we have so much history and it’s probably the last time we will ever play competitively.

“I know we play in the Seniors, but in a proper World Championship, it’s probably going to be the last ever time. It’s something to savour and look forward to.”

While the Scot admits White has enjoyed the upper hand on the practice table, the winning mentality of Hendry comes to the surface again when he casts his mind forward to this evening.

“Generally, he has been taking me apart [during practice],” said Hendry. “Jimmy stayed on the Tour, while I retired for nine years.

“He’s still got that competitive spark about him. His game, when we have been playing, has been better than mine.

“But I think the slate will be wiped clean when we play at the World qualifiers, because it’s a whole different scenario.”

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