One thing he did not bargain on was his thrust for competition, the thrill of winning and playing on the biggest stages. Winning a world title in his 30’s has justified playing on past his self labelled sell by date, although nobody can go on forever. He has remained a great competitor over the years, still winning titles at 36 he also reached the World Championship semi final at 38 and hit a magnificent 147 at 39. These achievements whilst modest in his overall career have made it worth while for his fans and the man himself to stick around.
In 2004 aged 34 during the Irish Masters Stephen once again flaunted with the notion of retiring, he talked about how he found it hard to get motivated for some events and wasn’t able to bring his best to the table anymore, the following day he lost to Mark King 5-4 in the first round. That notion since passed and he never muttered the word ‘retirement’ again, that is not until this years world championship.
He didn’t lose one first round ranking match all season which is a good achievement, however the ability to compete with the worlds top 8 has become a more difficult task for the games greatest ever player. This years world championship proved he doesn’t have the sustainable edge to consistently knock in the required big breaks.
During the 2nd & 3rd sessions against Mark Selby Stephen looked like a man who had simply lost his desire, the will to fight and play to the end. This is something we have not been accustomed to from Stephen, even during his heavy defeat to Ronnie in 2008 he managed to remain focused and committed to his pride up until the very end. One of his greatest strengths that has carried him through the years has finally burned out and the writing was on the wall so to speak.
After his first round match he admitted he would have retired had he been beaten, it came as no surprise that the subject came up again in his 2nd round post match interview. Having suggested he thought about it, he ended the interview by saying he will be back next year, a year that in my own opinion will be his last.
Having been invited to play in the PL for 20 years Stephen has failed to receive an invite from Barry Hearn for the 2010 event. There is no doubting that despite his decline he is still one of the few players that can pack out an arena, Steve Davis and Jimmy White also received wildcards far later in their career paths.
He can’t survive in the sport if he fails to attend the PTC events, but surviving is most likely the last thing on his mind. A season’s farewell is on the cards and snooker could well be about to lose one of its greatest servants. It will be both a sad and joyous day when Stephen plays his last frame, but as is life, all good things........
Edit by Sonny - nice article Casey but I had to edit the speculative sentence
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