Crucible king Stephen Hendry just cannot keep away from the sport which brought him fame and fortune.
Nearly a year has passed since the Scot decided to place his snooker cue in the rack for the last time.
His glittering career featured 36 ranking titles, including seven world crowns, six Masters triumphs and 775 century breaks.
Stephen rose to the top of the world rankings when he was 21, stayed there for the best part of a decade and is widely regarded as greatest player of all time. His form gradually tailed off in the Noughties but his legacy remains intact.
“I have hardly played at all since I retired,” Stephen told The Star. “I just play the odd game with my son or an exhibition event here and there. I am enjoying the fact that I don’t have to practice every day.”
The 2013 World Snooker Championship kicked off over the weekend at the Crucible Theatre and it is the first time in 28 years Stephen is not competing in the 17-day tournament. Instead, the 44-year-old is at the event in a slightly different capacity, working as a pundit for the BBC.
When asked if he has any regrets over his decision to call it a day, Stephen said: “None at all. I don’t miss it. At no point this season have I thought ‘I wish I was there’.”
But he conceded: “When I am commentating for the BBC in the final and looking out on a packed arena, there will be a slight tinge of me that wishes I was still out there competing. But it will only be slight. I know I made the right choice.”
Compiling big breaks in the Crucible cauldron was Stephen’s specialty. In his pomp, when it mattered most, he duly delivered. His long potting ability bullied opponents into submission and his powers of concentration were remarkable under pressure.
“The long frame matches suited my style,” he a knowledged. And he has fond memories of Sheffield.
“I always used to get butterflies as soon as I arrived in Sheffield in the car,” he said. “For me, the Crucible is the greatest place to play snooker. There is nowhere else even close.
“When you first start playing, it is your ambition in any sport to be world champion and to be the best. Even as a junior, I played my best in the bigger events.
“It didn’t matter how many tournaments I won during the season, if I didn’t win the worlds at the end of it, I would regard it somewhat as a failure.”
Apart from one year, Stephen always stayed in the Marriott Sheffield Hotel, now known as Kenwood Hall Hotel, in Nether Edge.
He said: “I liked being out of the city a little bit because at least when you played your matches you could get a little peace and quiet and you could relax. You need your down time between matches.
“I have never been that superstitious but I just liked staying up there. There was one year where I stayed at a different hotel and it just didn’t feel right.”
Stephen is a wealthy man. In prize money alone, he earned more than £10 million in his illustrious career. Yet new challenges excite the genial Scottish cueman. He likes being busy. Now he spends a big chunk of his time travelling around China in his role as a global ambassador for Chinese pool and billiards.
Stephen has completed the first of a 10-year contract with the Joy Chinese Pool Sports Development Co Ltd to promote Chinese pool, an eight-ball game combining the precision of snooker and the flexibility of nine-ball billiards format.
He said: “They (Joy Chinese Pool Sports) approached me last year. They are the top manufacturer of pool tables of this type.
“They want to try and take the game to a higher level so they wanted a well-known face to front the sport. It is what most people play in China. They love to watch snooker on TV but don’t play it.
“I visited 24 to 25 cities last year. Every 10 to 12 days, I went to a different city. I had not played the sport before but it is still a billiards sport so it is something I am enthusiastic about.
“I am going to cities I have never even heard of and I get mobbed on the street by fans! It is a strange sensation. I almost get recognised more there than I do in Britain!”
As part of his duties, Stephen visits numerous pool clubs and dines with locals. He added: “I play the local champions and sometimes that’s in front of as many as 5,000 people in a basketball arena and then I fly to the next city.
“They are short visits but it is great fun and the people really look after me well.”
Having been a major influence in the development of snooker as a global phenomenon, Stephen is now enjoying the opportunity to work in the most populated, and sport-mad, country in the world.