Ronnie O’Sullivan may have vowed to chase down his tally of 18 major titles, but snooker legend Stephen Hendry believes that his most enduring achievement is enshrined and will not be surpassed.
Hendry, dubbed The King of the Crucible, amassed a trailblazing haul of seven World Championships during a trophy-laden career, the last in 1999 when he dispatched future two-time winner Mark Williams 18-11.
He finished his career as outright leader on the list of world title winners, one clear of Steve Davis and Ray Reardon, dominant during the 1980s and 1970s respectively, and ahead of O’Sullivan by two.
O’Sullivan will bid to halve that deficit when this year’s World Championship gets underway in Sheffield on Saturday, although Hendry is confident his record is safe for the long term.
“I don’t see it being beaten at this point in time. I don’t think anyone is going to win eight world titles,” Hendry told City A.M.
“At the moment there are five, six, seven players who all play at a very high and level standard. There is nobody really dominating the game anymore. When you have players playing at a similar level or standard then it’s hard for one to pull away.
“I enjoy being the target, though. When I was playing and winning world titles, Steve Davis was the benchmark. He’d won six so my target was always to win seven.
“It’s important in sport to have goals to go for and if I’m the goal for someone to beat then that’s great.”
Hendry retired from the professional snooker tour in 2012 after being knocked out of the World Championship quarter-final by fellow Scottish cueman Stephen Maguire.
The 48-year-old failed to seal a return to the Crucible and a place in this year’s qualifying event when he lost to Peter Lines in the semi-final of the World Seniors Championship in Scunthorpe last month.
His tip for the 2017 title is defending champion and world No1 Mark Selby, although he considers up to six others – Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and O’Sullivan – to be in the mix.
“It’s pretty open this year but I believe Mark Selby’s game suits the format of the World Championship,” added Hendry.
“It’s the most difficult tournament to win because of the stamina required. The mental stamina needed for 17 days of long matches is something a lot of players cannot handle.
“You see some players getting to the semi-finals and they’re absolutely knackered and just cannot go any further. It’s the biggest test of every single facet of your game and skills.
“I’ve tipped Judd Trump the last couple of years but he has flattered to deceive a little bit, although he’s maturing all the time and is a top player.
“With the long matches, Selby is very, very tough to beat in that situation and if I was to name one player to win it, he would be it.”
Selby currently tops the world standings, which are based on a prize money accrued from ranking tournaments during the season, and is guaranteed to end the campaign as world No1 for a sixth successive campaign.
He is £385,425 clear of second-placed Trump and, despite a record £375,000 on offer for the Crucible champion, not even a first-round exit would end Selby’s uninterrupted run as the planet’s top player, which began in February 2015.
Hendry considers Selby to hold a lofty status within the pantheon of world No1s, although insists some question marks still remain over the Leicester-born 33-year-old.
“Selby has to be up there because he is world No1 by a mile,” said Hendry, who held top spot for a record eight years between 1990 and 1998.
“All you can do in your chosen sport is achieve what you can achieve.
“But I think he himself would admit that he has to start winning more tournaments. He’s very, very consistent at getting to quarter and semi-finals but he has got to start turning that into wins.
“How far ahead he is as world No1 says to me that he should be winning four or five tournaments a season, which he’s not doing.”
Debate continues about the game and how far snooker has drifted since its heyday when 18.5m people tuned in to the 1985 World Championship final and Chas and Dave’s Snooker Loopy reached No6 in the UK singles chart. Hendry, however, believes there is little cause for concern.
“The viewing figures still stand up in the main events and the standard of play is very high,” said Hendry.
“There is interest worldwide; we have tournaments in Europe, India and four five competitions China.
“I don’t think anything needs to be done with the game. The game is very healthy.”
Stephen Hendry was speaking on behalf of online betting site BetStars. Hendry has tipped Mark Selby to win the World Snooker Championship. Call it! with www.betstars.uk