With a record 36 ranking titles – including seven World Championships – Stephen Hendry is snooker’s greatest winner.
In the first of our exclusive five-part series – which will run throughout the Betway UK Championship – Hendry talks candidly about his unrelenting drive, how much he relished being the player everyone wanted to beat and why not defending a title was never an option for him.
The man who was world No. 1 for eight successive years also reveals, in an accompanying video, the athletes he admires the most and why he never roots for the underdog.
The UK Championship
SH: The UK Championship was one of the three big events that, at the start of the season, I always wanted to win.
The UK, the Masters and the World Championship are the three you want on your CV.
Others were a bonus, but if I didn’t win any of those three at the end of the season I’d be very disappointed.
The absence of last year’s winner
SH: When I was playing, I wanted to win a tournament knowing all the best players were playing.
Ronnie’s the biggest draw in the game – I don’t think anyone would argue with that – but the other players have to step up now.
They won’t be complaining – to have one of your major rivals taken out of the equation definitely helps.
There was perhaps time when the top players would think that if they won a tournament and Ronnie wasn’t in it, then a bit of the gloss would be taken off.
But I don’t think the top players quite see that as much anymore. Over the last couple of years, he’s not been seen as invincible as he was.
The likes of Neil Robertson and Mark Selby – even John Higgins has come to the fore – won’t think that way.
The art of defending titlesSH: The first thing you think is that the trophy and title belongs to you and you don’t want anyone to take it off you.
If I was to lose a tournament defending it, I’d be very disappointed. Especially if it was one of the big ones.
I won the UK five times, the Masters six times and the Worlds seven times and got used to winning those and taking those for granted almost.
So when I didn’t, it hurt me very badly indeed.
I loved being the top player, I loved being the world No. 1, I loved being the world champion and I loved being the target.
I also needed challenges. So if people were raising their game to play me, then great. That’s how I wanted it to be.
Every time I stepped out into the arena at the big events, I wanted to prove why I was the best.
Is winning it again harder? In a way it is.
You don’t want to lose a title that you’ve won. Also, the expectation on yourself is higher.
But in a way it becomes easier. Your mindset, once you’ve done something once, you know how to do it, especially at certain venues.
I’ve had great success at the Triple Crown events, so I got used to what’s required to win them.
The importance of winning again and again (like him, Davis and O’Sullivan?)
SH: In every sport, you see lots of players who win one or two titles and then you never hear from them again.
What I like to see is someone who’s not prepared to settle for winning one event, someone who wants to win them again, again and again and really dominate the sport.
Ronnie has won a lot of titles and for the last six or seven years dominated the sport in a way because of his persona and the way he plays snooker.
But he hasn’t done what Steve and I have done and really dedicated himself and really wanted to dominate each season, winning four, five, six titles and being world No. 1 for a long stretch of time.
Whether there is someone who can do that nowadays, I don’t know.