STEPEHEN Hendry insisted he was not too old to be the Crucible’s best man again on a day when love was in the air at the Betfred.com World Championship.
Hendry completed a 13-4 drubbing of out-of-sorts defending champion John Higgins to reach the quarter-finals and reaffirm his affection for the venue where he has won a record seven titles.
And with a marriage proposal between Crucible audience regulars having earlier brought the desired response, delighting the crowd as it was afforded centre stage, passions were running high.
Higgins was not sharing in the love feast, after a dismal performance, and vowed to come back stronger next season.
“It broke my heart to come back here today 12-4 down,” Higgins said.
The end was swift, as Hendry added the frame he required once Higgins missed a pink. A break of 64 from Hendry followed, and soon Higgins was offering his hand in defeat.
For their first Crucible encounter, the anticipation of a classic match between the two great Scottish players meant there was always a danger it would fall flat.
Four-time champion Higgins played perhaps the worst session of his career last night to gift it 7-1 to Hendry, who had already been 5-3 in front after a better morning.
Higgins said: “This can place can do that to you. I have seen it, it can give you your best moments but also your worst nightmares.
“I have no idea what happened last night.
“From 5-3 I thought it would be close, but I ended up dragging him down to my level. I can’t describe how bad it was, really, really bad.”
Hendry can share the experience of a humiliating defeat, having come close to announcing his retirement upon losing 13-4 to Mark Selby at the second-round stage 12 months ago.
Now, though, Hendry can dare to dream of an eighth world title, but as both he and Higgins reasoned, Stephen Maguire, another Scot, is sure to give him a tougher match.
Hendry, who at the age of 43 has drifted to 23rd in the world rankings, protests his age should not be a factor in how he progresses during the rest of the tournament.
He had it easy against Stuart Bingham in round one, when he fired a 147 to earn a £50,000 bonus, and looked the younger man as he breezed past 36-year-old Higgins.
Hendry, who last won the world title in 1999, said: “I don’t feel like the oldest player in the tournament. I don’t feel like that at all.
“Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been playing so much competitive snooker, I keep getting beaten in the first round. Perhaps I’m the freshest player out there.”
Maguire suggested there were players coming to the Crucible in danger of “burnout” from a busy season.
Hendry is confident that does not apply to him, and there is nobody standing in his way who could claim to be more comfortable or possess greater experience at the Crucible.
“I love it, there’s no better place to play snooker,” Hendry said. “To make a maximum here this week and to be in the quarters, one match away from again playing in the one-table situation, is amazing.
“I’m fortunate in the fact John’s probably not played as bad in his life at the Crucible as he did last night.
“If someone said I would beat John Higgins 13-4 I would say they were nuts.”
Maguire polished off a 13-7 win over Joe Perry this morning and is playing well enough to push Hendry hard.
“He’s always very tough to beat,” Hendry said of the 31-year-old Glaswegian. “Anything can happen from hereon in, but I’m just delighted to be in the quarter-finals.”
Before the day’s play began, 42-year-old local football referee Brian Wright from Coventry got down on one knee to pop the question to his 38-year-old HR manager girlfriend Lisa Dunks, from Chesterfield.
Maguire then delighted the Tartan contingent by guaranteeing another all-Scottish match in the last eight.
“It will be quite special to play Stephen at the Crucible for the first time,” Maguire said.
“I grew up watching Stephen win all the titles, and it will be great to play him in the quarter-finals.”
Like Hendry, Maguire was amazed to see Higgins crumble so badly.
“I could see he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him, and we’ve all had that feeling,” Maguire said.
Half the seeds lost in round one this year.
Maguire suggests some players have struggled with the demands of the new Players Tour Championship, a series of low-profile events running alongside the majors.
He said: “If everyone’s taking the PTCs as seriously and trying as hard as they would here, I think there’s a serious chance of burnout before the World Championship.”
Higgins is unlikely to be glued to the rest of the action. He can nevertheless see Hendry going all the way.
“If anyone knows how to win a world title it is Stephen,” Higgins said. “But it will get tougher for him now.”
Between them, Higgins, Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams have 16 world titles, and all were in action this afternoon.
Three-time champion O’Sullivan developed a 5-3 lead over Williams, winner in 2000 and 2003, in their second-round clash.
O’Sullivan doubled in the green and added brown and blue in the final frame to leave Williams requiring snookers he had no interest in chasing.
The Chigwell 36-year-old was worth his two-frame cushion, after firing breaks of 57, 53, 95, 56 and 86 to just one half-century, a 64, from Ebbw Vale man Williams.
Wales’ Ryan Day, the 32-year-old who lost World Championship quarter-finals in 2008 and 2009, will have a third bite at a last-eight tussle.
Day knocked out Ding Junhui in the first round and tonight completed a 13-7 win over Ding’s 21-year-old Chinese compatriot Cao Yupeng.
He awaits the winner of the match between fellow Welshman Matthew Stevens and England’s Barry Hawkins, having finished off Cao with his second century of the evening.
Day, who has fallen from sixth to 35th in the rankings, won all four frames tonight and said: “I’ve only got to the quarters here before. It’s a big match for me next and if I can win it’s new territory.
“I know if I win the next match it all changes and becomes a one-table set-up, and everyone wants to play on that stage.
“If I can play like I did in the last four frames consistently, I know I can beat anybody.”
Judd Trump, last year’s runner-up who struggled with food poisoning in his opening win over Dominic Dale earlier in the week, reported healthy for his second-round clash with Ali Carter but fell 5-3 behind. They resume tomorrow afternoon and play to a finish on Monday.