STEPHEN Hendry has paid tribute to world champion Neil Robertson ahead of their first round clash at The Masters.
The six-times Masters champion is relishing the prospect of coming up against Robertson after initially having doubts that he’d even qualify.
“It looked a little dodgy at first so I am relieved to have qualified a tournament I consider to be the second biggest in the game,” Hendry confessed to 110sport.tv.
“All the top players are involved and it’s a real test. Going into this event I think there will be twelve or thirteen guys who think they have a good chance of winning – that certainly shows the strength in depth that the game boasts at present.
“I have been really impressed by Neil’s attitude since winning the World Championship. He didn’t rest on his laurels and quickly set his sights on becoming world No.1 which he obviously achieved after winning the World Open in Glasgow.
“I think that shows he has real ambition. After winning a title a lot of players relax and take their foot off the pedal but Neil is one of few who have managed to win more than one title in different seasons.”
Between 1989 and 1993, Hendry triumphed at Wembley five times in a row and his incredible feat brought with it some huge rewards.
“Winning the competition five-times in a row was fantastic. After the fifth Benson and Hedges let me keep the trophy – I was the first player that happened to and it was incredible,” smiled Hendry.LAST WIN....Hendry and O'Sullivan in 1996
“I also got my hand print on the Wembley Way. I am the only snooker player on there. That for me was almost bigger than my MBE – it was such a huge honour to take my place alongside so many sporting greats.”
Earlier this week John Higgins confessed that he has often struggled to cope with atmosphere at Wembley.
Hendry agrees that the crowd at The Masters is very different to that of any other ranking event but insists it has often helped encourage him to win matches.
“The old Wembley Conference Centre was a fantastic venue with 2500 spectators creating a great atmosphere. I played Jimmy White there and there were people booing and it seemed that everyone in the crowd was against me. That used to spur me on and I would thrive on it,” Hendry reflected.
Looking ahead to the remained of the season Hendry is well aware he still faces a fight to remain in the top 16 of the world rankings.
With four ranking events remaining the world No.14 knows he must start picking up results.
“The second half of the season is really important for me. I really need to pick up some positive results to remain in the top 16 and I am looking forward to the challenge.”
MARK Allen is hoping that the vociferous Wembley crowd have little to cheer about when he comes up against home crowd favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan at The Masters.
Allen says he is relishing his opening round encounter with the ‘Rocket’ and has set his sights on recapturing the form that took him to the last four of the UK Championship last month.
“I was obviously disappointed to lose to John Higgins at the UK, but it was a welcome relief to get a few wins under my belt and hopefully I can now kick on from here,” Allen told 110sport.tv.
“I know I’ll have to play well to beat Ronnie and continue that form from Telford but I am really looking forward to the match. Any player dreams of playing him at any of the big venues.
“When I played Ronnie at the World Championship he had 90% of the crowd on his side so I have a good idea of what the atmosphere will be like. I have a few people coming to see me though and I am sure that I’ll pick up the backing of a few neutral’s on the day.”
Antrim potter Allen insists that his mindset for a tournament does not change despite coming up against one of snooker’s big names.
Last year at Wembley he recorded a first round victory over John Higgins and says he will draw on that experience going into his match with the ‘Rocket’.
“I don’t go into the tournament in a different mindset just because I am playing a bigger name,” he said.
“I just go in hoping to win the event and aim to beat whoever is put in-front of me and to win the tournament – there are too many players to give all your respect to one individual.
“I can draw on my experience of beating John Higgins at Wembley last year. A few before that match talked about his victory over me in the semi-finals of the World Championship and suggested he was a bit of a bogey player for me.
“After that match however I levelled my record against him at 2-2 and if I beat Ronnie at The Masters I’d have a 2-1 record against him – I must be doing something right.”
Going into the first major tournament of 2011 Allen has had little time to prepare. While the majority of people celebrated over Christmas and New Year he was downed by a flu bug.
The world No.11 is back on his feet again now however and has been putting in the hard work in practice.
“I always take Christmas off and then try and get back to it. Unfortunately I was grounded by the flu just after that so I only returned to practicing on Tuesday. That’s not ideal but I am feeling pretty good about my game and hope to continue the form I was on towards the end of last year.”
Recently Mark has been working alongside former world champion Terry Griffiths in a bid to help his game.
Many have suggested that there has been a marked improvement in the 24-year-old’s discipline as a result.
I don’t think it’s been a case of working on my discipline – that’s something that you pick up after losing a lot of games from a winning position,” admitted Allen.
“Terry has been helping tighten up my game and it seems to be working. It certainly can’t do any harm working with a guy of his calibre.”
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