Stephen Hendry beat Jimmy White 6-3 in the first qualifying round of the Betfred World Championship as as he graced the stage at snooker’s biggest tournament for the first time since 2012.
Seven-time world champion Hendry made his comeback at last month’s Gibraltar Open, losing to Matthew Selt
Hendry got the better of an epic rivalry between these two legends during the 1990s – winning four Crucible finals – and once again tonight he came out on top. After a nervy opening, Hendry settled into the match and made fewer mistakes than his opponent, inflicting more misery on White, who could now face relegation from the tour.
Scotland’s 52-year-old Hendry still needs to win three more matches at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield to make it to the nearby Crucible, but will go into his second round tie with China’s Xu Si on Wednesday evening with the satisfaction of having won a professional match for the first time in nine years.
White, age 58, could lose his pro status if other results go against him. He would then have to rely on a trip to Q School or a fresh invitational tour card if he is to compete on the circuit next season.
Londoner White won a scrappy opening frame, then Hendry took the second with breaks of 37 and 34. Frame three lasted 43 minutes and came down to the colours. Hendry got the snooker he needed on the pink, and – after a safety exchange on the black – knocked in a mid-range pot to a top corner to lead 2-1.
That proved a turning point as Hendry made a break of 53 to lead 3-1 at the interval, then got the better of a fragmented fifth frame to extend his lead. White looked set to pull one back until he missed a red to a top corner on 58, and Hendry punished him with an excellent 66 clearance for 5-1.
White battled back, making a break of 58 as he took frame seven, then adding the eighth for 5-3. But Hendry controlled the ninth and sealed victory with a run of 52.
“I’m not happy about the way we both played, I had hoped we would both play well and it would be a great match. There was a lot of tension, Jimmy looked bang under it,” said Hendry, who made his World Championship debut in 1986 and played his 100th match in the tournament on Monday night.
“I was trying to relax and enjoy the occasion. The result probably meant more to Jimmy than it did to me. When you look back at the finals we played, we both had natural, flowing cue actions. Tonight it was stuttered and staggered, our average shot time felt like about four minutes.
“The only time when I found some rhythm was when I made the clearance to go 5-1. Something switched on inside me – that instinct to pinch a frame. And I won a frame when I needed a snooker – that’s a collector’s item!
“So there were a couple of little highlights and I’ve got to be happy with the win. The rhythm I have on the practice table, I’m not taking into the match yet. There were only a handful of shots I hit well tonight.
“I don’t think I will have frightened anyone with that performance and I’ll be the underdog again in my next match. I’ll just go and enjoy it and keep my expectations low. It’s too soon for me to qualify for the Crucible. Every match is a bonus and helps me get used to being out there. Next season will be a different matter because I will have more competitive snooker under my belt.
“Who knows, I might come back on Wednesday and get on a roll. But there are frailties in my game that won’t hold up over four matches. My goal at the moment is just to improve.”