LEGENDS of the green baize Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, winners of 13 world titles between them, were the star attractions at a heaving Snookes in Weymouth. The two men dominated snooker in the 1980s and 90s respectively, breaking all records the game has to offer on their way to the top. Echosport’s David Williams caught up with both players before they treated the 200-plus crowd to an action-packed night.
Steve Davis How do you view the health of snooker at the moment?
“The general state of snooker is an interesting subject in as much as while the public in the UK think it’s on a downward curve, and there are fewer clubs around than there used to be, worldwide it’s absolutely flourishing beyond belief.
We are not so dependent on our UK markets as we were in the 90s when we started to see a decline, and certainly in the 2000s when it was hard to hold on to sponsors.
Now we’ve realised that the game has effectively broken free of the UK, it doesn’t need the UK anymore.
It’s in a much healthier position now than it was five years ago, let alone 10 years ago.”
Can anyone stop Ronnie O’Sullivan?
“While there are some very good players around who are able to beat him, they’re not able to beat him as easily as he is able to beat them.
It’s arguable how much of a lead he has got on them when you equate it to how many frames start he could give a player in a best-of-17 match.
I definitely think that, at the very worst, he has got an edge on everybody and, at best, he’s a street ahead of them.
It’s effectively Premier League as opposed to Championship and it may even be that there is a chasm there when he puts his mind to it.
But snooker’s not as black and white as that and it is about form on the day.
With the World Championship looming in April it augurs well for him that if the right person turns up he’s going to have a significant chance of winning again which would be his sixth championship.
Stephen has won seven and at 38 it doesn’t look like Ronnie is deteriorating, which players do around the age of 40.
He may even be able to push the barriers back as to how far he can stay at the top of the game.
It’s not just a couple of years left at the top, it’s perhaps seven or eight. He might still be able to produce great snooker at 45.
It would be astonishing to think he could break Stephen’s record.”
Can Ronnie break Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world championships?
“I don’t think John Higgins will be able to but Ronnie is the best placed to do it, and if Ronnie doesn’t do it I don’t think anyone will because the margins between the top players are getting smaller.
Nobody’s going to be able to dominate like players used to but I think he’s the only person who can possibly beat Stephen’s record. Stephen will be hoping that he doesn’t.”
How long do you see yourself playing the game and what is there left to achieve?
“Even though I’m still on the professional circuit I look at it as if I’m dabbling in it, it’s more of a hobby now.
My only challenge left is how long can I stay in the game to create a record in that respect.
What’s the oldest you could physically stay on the main tour and still justify your existence if you weren’t being given a place?
At 56 I’m struggling to stay on the main tour this year, but if I do I’ll be 57 at the start of the next season. I suppose my challenge is to see if it’s feasible to be on the tour when I’m 60.
There’s no point stopping playing because I’m not paying the price of dedicating my whole life to it so I pick my cue up when I feel like it.
It’s not demanding and I don’t have to justify putting in hours and hours on the practice table.
I rely on a bit of nous and canny wilyness, and when I beat a young player I wonder what they are thinking – they’re probably thinking they’ve just been beaten by granddad.”
Have you played snooker in Weymouth before?
“I think I came here almost 30 years ago. I’m sure I came down here when I was 18 or 19.
There was something about the place that I recognised.
I think it was for an exhibition when I was here before. I used to be employed by a company that supplied tables and stuff, so when I first turned professional that was all I did basically.
When you used to get knocked out in the first round of a tournament you would be in Weymouth one night and then Newcastle the next.
I don’t do a lot of exhibitions, maybe six to eight a year.
When I retired I wanted to spend more time at home, and I do stuff in China, so if you say yes to everybody you are busier than you were before.”
What are the chances of Ronnie O’Sullivan breaking your record of seven world titles?
“It’s pretty much up to Ronnie. Sometimes he doesn’t want to play but it’s very much up to him.
He can do it but whether he will remains to be seen.
He’s still got to win another three world titles to beat my record so if he wins the next three in a row it would take him up to 41. Apart from him I don’t see anyone else doing it.
We’ve made 11 maximums each and when I’m commentating and it looks like he is going for one I’m thinking ‘miss, miss’.”
Can anyone else match Ronnie among the current players?
“The likes of Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui are the three standout players this season in terms of consistently winning.
But you’ve got Ronnie at one level and you’ve got everyone else on a similar level but just below him. Unless someone gets in front of him early then when he gets in front he’s pretty much unstoppable.
Like all top sportsmen, he gets himself up for the biggest events. He doesn’t like playing in the small ones and that’s why I retired. I didn’t enjoy playing in these PTC tournaments with nobody watching, and I don’t think Ronnie enjoys that either. He enjoys the buzz of the big ones.”
Do you miss snooker?
“I was talking to Barry Hearn and saying if only it was like it is now when I was still playing because you can pick and choose which tournaments you play in.
The rankings are all done on money so if you have a good run at a couple of the big events you can miss out the little ones.
Generally, I don’t miss it. The last five or six years I didn’t practice as much and then you’re not sharp and losing to people you shouldn’t, and you end up not enjoying it. Steve (Davis) still enjoys the challenge but, if I’m not winning, I’m not enjoying it so why put myself through the torture.
Winning my world championships is a big thing for me and being number one eight years in a row is a record I think.
I was the youngest ever world champion which might never be beaten so I’ve set loads and loads of records and I can’t complain about the career I’ve had.”