By Will Jennings
Stephen Hendry's title-winning days at the top of world snooker are not over yet, warns six-time world champion and former rival Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Seven-time king of the Crucible Hendry announced a sensational comeback to the sport after he was awarded a two-year individual tour card this summer.
The 36-time major winner, whose overall ranking event record was eclipsed by O’Sullivan in August, has undertaken regular punditry work since retiring but is plotting a return to the circuit he dominated in the 1990s.
World No.2 O’Sullivan, who still lies one title adrift of Hendry’s World Championship record, is uncertain of the Scot’s motivations but fears he still has what it takes to bolster his trophy cabinet.
The 44-year-old said: “I’d never count anyone out.
“You could come out and go ‘he’s not capable of doing it’ and then they do it and you’re the one that looks silly. You really wouldn’t want to discount someone of Stephen Hendry’s pedigree.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on him and there are no expectations really.
“I don’t know what his reasons are to come and play. Maybe he’s got a bit of a thing where he’s working with Steve Feeney and got a bit excited. Maybe he’s a bit bored and doesn’t want to keep playing golf and thinks ‘I miss the circuit, I miss the lads’.
“If it’s just about getting out of the house and enjoying himself and doing his punditry, having a purpose in life and just getting his cue out because he’s very good, he enjoys it and gets a buzz out of playing, then I think it’s a good decision for him and his life.
“For Stephen, if it’s all about winning then it’s going to be really tough to come back on the circuit and win. For him, I’m sure it’ll just be a good experience."
Hendry, 51, has been working closely with elite coach Steve Feeney, who recently claimed he could return to his prolific title-winning days seen before the turn of the century.
Hendry ascended the Crucible throne on seven occasions between 1990 and 1999 and stormed to a stunning five UK Championship and six Masters titles.
O’Sullivan has scooped 20 Triple Crown titles to Hendry’s 18 and enjoyed a fiery rivalry with the Scot until his retirement in 2012.
The pair memorably met in the 2002 World Championship semi-finals after O’Sullivan had accused Hendry of poor sportsmanship and told him to go ‘back to his sad little life in Scotland’, before the seven-time winner edged out the Rocket 17-13 in a classic.
"Ah, that's how you play Snooker."
The Crucible King @SHendry775 is coming back to the baize. He was the benchmark for @Ronnieo147.
Who wants to see a battle of the 🐐 at World Championship next year!#ilovesnooker | @WeAreWST pic.twitter.com/nvXEzzsQsd
— BETFRED (@Betfred) September 2, 2020
The exact date of Hendry’s return remains uncertain but O’Sullivan says he’d relish the prospect of going toe-to-toe with his old rival once more.
“I don’t mind playing anybody,” he added.
“It wouldn’t bother me if I had to play Stephen. I quite enjoy it – I think it would be quite a good game and I think the snooker fans would enjoy it.
“It could be quite an interesting sort of one for the fans.”