THERE was a tinge of sadness in Stephen Hendry’s eyes yesterday with the realisation that he might just have played his last match here at snooker’s very own ‘Theatre of Dreams’.
Snooker’s greatest player has graced the sport’s greatest stage for a staggering, and record, 26 seasons, and won a record seven Crucible crowns.
But the days when the all-conquering Scot dominated the green baize are long gone with a new breed of players now taking centre stage.
Hendry can still compete at the top level, but after his 13-4 defeat to Mark Selby admitted he never harboured any hope of winning an eighth world title.
“Coming here and not truly believing you can win the World title is not what it’s about, enjoyment in the game is all about winning,” confessed Hendry. “If I can’t win I’m not going to enjoy it.”
You can certainly emphasise with Hendry. For a player who dominated the sport from a young age, getting beat at a venue which he regards to as his own front-room is going to be especially hard to take.
And the 42-year-old admits he’s lost the self-belief that helped him to stay at world No 1 for a record eight consecutive seasons.
“I’ve still got the game but I haven’t got the self-belief to compete with these guys. I love playing at the Crucible, but I hate not being competitive. Without wins that doesn’t change, that’s the Catch 22. You need wins to get your belief and your confidence - and I’m not getting wins. It’s debilitating.”
Down 12-4 overnight Hendry knew his fate was virtually sealed as Selby - who had a record six centuries in the match - deservedly clinched a place in the quarter-finals. But his Leicester conqueror would be sad if his comprehensive victory were to force Hendry into retirement.
“He’s the greatest player ever,” said Selby. “To see him retire would be a shame. Hopefully it’s not his last World Championship, he’s been great for the sport.
“Stephen and Jimmy White were two of the players that really made me want to play snooker. I used to love Jimmy because of the way he played, but as far as idols go, it was definitely Stephen because of the records he set and all the tournaments he won.”