This season is Stephen Hendry’s 26th as a professional and his 23rd in succession as a member of the elite top 16.
It could also be the campaign that tells us whether his career in the top flight is set to continue or whether his days are numbered.
There is certainly no disgrace in being ranked 11th at the age of 41 but I suspect Stephen doesn’t derive much pleasure from now being a member of the supporting cast after so many years in the starring role.
He is snooker’s greatest ever champion and, like all born winners, wants to keep on winning.
In fact, it’s now five years since his last ranking title and almost four since his last ranking final.
Hendry’s essential problem is that all of the players above him in the rankings have copied how he played in his heyday but they are now playing it better than him.
When Steve Davis began to drop down the list he changed his game and became much more tactical, happy to scrape wins rather than try and pot his opponents off the table.
Hendry has never been a fan of safety play and frames that get drawn out and is still playing the same game as he always did, just with less success.
I know he hates people saying he isn’t as good as he once was but the evidence of the last two years suggests that this is the case.
It is hard for any player to accept this but especially difficult for an all time great.
It took Davis a number of years to come to terms with the fact that Hendry had overtaken him as snooker’s dominant force. When he did he relaxed and did not put himself under pressure trying to force results.
And then, out of nowhere and with little personal expectation, he won the Wembley Masters in 1997.
Since then Davis has put together several memorable performances, defying Old Father Time. He reached the 2004 Welsh Open final, the 2005 UK Championship final and, of course, beat John Higgins in the second round of last season’s Betfred.com World Championship.
In the same tournament Hendry struggled past young Zhang Anda before suffering a heavy defeat to Mark Selby.
His aura of invincibility is now gone. His performances of late have even seen him dropped from the Premier League.
But I think it’s dangerous to write him off completely. Truly great players in any sport have a tendency to, as the old cliché puts it, roll back the years every now and again.
It’s entirely conceivable Hendry could win tournaments in the future but I don’t think he will until he accepts he is no longer as strong a player as he was at his remarkable peak.
What he needs is an injection of self belief. I don’t know if Hendry feels the new Players Tour Championship is beneath him but it is actually an ideal chance to rebuild confidence.
There’s nobody watching, if he loses he can point to the short format but it’s matches against good players and will toughen up his game more than by playing alone in his snooker room.
Furthermore, if he misses many more PTC events his ranking position will suffer and it may be that he will have to go to the Academy in Sheffield – to qualify for tournaments.
In such a scenario, Hendry may prefer a dignified retirement. If that happens he will hang up his cue safe in the knowledge that his career has been more successful than any other player in the modern age.
But I sense he isn’t ready to give up just yet.
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