For any player to overshadow the first appearance of the year by Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible is pretty special. But then, Steve Davis is a special kind of player and a special kind of man, too.
The six-time world champion graced the Crucible stage for one last time yesterday, parading the trophy around the arena where he dominated the sport in the 1980s. Minutes earlier he had confirmed his retirement from snooker aged 58, after losing in the qualifiers to Fergal O’Brien. He had entered the world championships while his father, Bill, was still alive and after his tragic death, an emotional Davis told his farewell press conference that defeat to O’Brien was the only game he’d ever played without his Dad.
And it turned out to be his last, as a professional at least. Jimmy White, Davis’ nemesis in their heyday, led the tributes, saying: “He’s been a fantastic ambassador for the game. He used to be my opposite, my enemy in a way.
“We do a lot of work together now and travel together and he’s not as boring as he makes out. When he was young he didn’t really talk to anyone and that was probably why he was so good and won so much.
“I’ve got all the respect in the world for him.”
Davis and Barry Hearn, World Snooker’s current supremo, began working together in 1976 and their partnership continued until recently, when Davis called his mentor to tell him he was retiring. Hearn said he thought he had years ago.
“It’s quite emotional for me,” Hearn said.
“Steve was a shy, very quiet person. It’s been 40 years, probably about the longest partnership in sport anywhere in the world. I’ve enjoyed every second and he’s been an absolute pleasure to look after and a greater pleasure to be my best friend.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Steve Davis and nor would snooker, and I think when I look back on his career not only was he a dominant player and the best of his era, but still to this day he’s the finest sporting ambassador this country has ever produced.
O’Sullivan, upstaged for once at the home of snooker, opened up a 6-3 lead over plucky David Gilbert in an afternoon session which was, in the wider context of the day, a mere footnote as Davis took centre stage at the Crucible for one final time.