Reality bites as Stephen Hendry loses to world No 82 in World Championship qualifier

After Monday’s meander down memory lane, Stephen Hendry collided head on with snooker’s new reality on Wednesday night.

Xu Si, the world No 82, was not even born when Hendry won six of his seven world titles but was emphatic in dispatching the 52-year-old former Crucible king 6-1 in their World Championship qualifier.

Hendry actually won the first frame and had also built a comfortable lead in the second but, after moving level largely courtesy of a double, Xu never looked remotely troubled. 

Breaks of 75, 79, 51, 66 and 72 were also a reminder that, while Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams have demonstrated that snooker’s top-end standard is not so different to 20 years ago, the strength in depth is of a much higher order.

It was only Hendry’s third match on his professional comeback following nine years in retirement and, having beaten Jimmy White 6-3 earlier this week in a game, this was another disjointed and erratic performance.

It was also not unexpected. Hendry’s aim in returning to snooker was to qualify at least one final time to appear as a player at The Crucible but he has always acknowledged that his best chance would come next year.

Practice is one thing but the tournament tables and wider competitive atmosphere is something else and he knows that the only remedy is more matches. “I never expected to get through four matches here, not in the slightest, but I hoped that after coming through that match with Jimmy, which was very scrappy, I’d relax into a bit of form here,” he said. “The second frame I think I was on 49 and lost position, in the old days that frame would have been over and I’d have been 2-0 ahead and off to go, but I stuttered. 

“From then on it was just downhill really. He can play, but everyone can play if you don’t put them under any pressure.”

Xu will now face his Chinese compatriot Zhou Yuelong in the third of four qualifying rounds for a place in the final stages of the World Championships later this month.

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