Snooker legend Steve Davis admits dropping off the sport’s professional tour lifted a weight off his shoulders.
The Romford cueman revolutioned the sport in the Eighties, leading to an influx of bright young talent as they all attempted to knock Davis off his pedestal at world No 1.
Many tried and failed, as Davis won the World Championship six times at Sheffield’s Crucible theatre and was ranked world No 1 for seven consecutive seasons.
Even after the arrival of Stephen Hendry and his golden period in the Nineties, Davis played on, winning 28 ranking events – second only to Hendry, who has since retired – and won the 1997 Masters, aged 39.
A few years ago, in his early 50s, Davis said his aim was to keep his ranking below his age. Winning silverware was no longer a realistic option, but playing the sport he loves would never go away. He was still ensconced inside the top 16 when he turned 50 during the 2007-2008 season.
Sadly, time caught up with the 57-year-old as he dropped out of the world’s top 64 after losing in the Crucible qualifiers at the end of last season and so lost his place on the game’s main tour after 36 years.
It had been a constant battle, looking over his shoulder as yet another generation of teenagers entered the game, like Leeds youngster Oliver Lines, and Davis admits when the end came, it was a big relief.
“It’s a nice feeling, not having a ranking position or standard I’m trying to protect,” reflects Davis.
“I can just play for fun and when I feel like it.
“In a way it was a relief for me to drop off the tour and to end that habit all players have of looking at the ranking list and wondering what they have to do.
“Of course I will still take pride in my performance and if every now and again I can play well and win a match, it will feel great to be involved in a tournament.
“But I won’t lose any sleep if I play badly.”
Davis is a big advocate of snooker’s expanded format, with events being staged around the world, from China and Australia to India and the USA.
But he admits that unlike in his glory days – when players would get a few months off after the Crucible before the new season cued off – today’s professionals are on the game’s treadmill of playing, travelling, playing.
“I really enjoyed the summer, in many ways it was nice to have a proper break from playing snooker,” admits Davis.
“These days, competing through the summer is part of a player’s life, they are almost picking their cues up as soon as the World Championship has finished.
“In the Eighties and Nineties you would have two or three months off to recharge your batteries, but it’s not like that anymore.
“I played in the first couple of European Tour events but didn’t do very well.
“I have played in a few exhibitions since then but otherwise the cue has been in the case.
“Now we’re into the winter there is more motivation for me, and I’ll be playing more in the second half of the season.”
Davis has been given an invitational tour card for this season, but that does not guarantee him a spot at every tournament.
He is hoping to return to York next month for the UK Championship, although he has to sweat it out before next week’s cut-off to see if he has secured a spot.
York, and the UK finals, have good memories for Davis. He has picked up the title a record six times, and in 2005 – at the age of 48 – he stunned the game by reaching the final at the Barbican.
He was only denied a magnificent seventh title by rising Chinese potter Ding Junhui – winning his first ranking event, aged just 18 – who triumphed 10-6.
Davis had to beat his old sparring partner Hendry in the semi-finals, after seeing off the challenge of Mark Allen, Stephen Maguire and Ken Doherty.
Even as recently as 2010, Davis showed he could still perform at the highest level when he reached the quarter-finals of the World Championship.
Twelve months ago, Davis was in the television reality show I’m a Celebrity.. Get Me Out Of Here and lasted until day 18 before his eviction.
How he would like just a couple of days back in the spotlight at York next month.
The UK Championship runs from November 25 to December 7 at the York Barbican. For ticket details call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets.