Twenty-seven years after dashing Jimmy White’s dreams in their fourth World Championship final, Stephen Hendry returned to haunt his former foe once again with a 6-3 comeback win in Sheffield.
Hendry’s one-sided triumph in their first qualifying round clash belied a desperately gruelling affair in which the only flicker of their respective former glories came in the sixth frame when the Scot summoned a steely 66 clearance.
Hendry, who now faces China’s Xu Si in the second qualifying round on Wednesday, said: “It wasn’t pretty and I kind of thought it would go that way because there was so much hype on it.
“There were some pluses – I made a nice clearance to go 5-1 ahead and I won a frame needing a snooker, which was a collectors’ item.
“In practice I’m hitting the ball well but I didn’t bring that at all. You could count on two hands the number of decent shots I hit tonight, but the more matches I play it’ll come, and I’m delighted to get the win.”
In a potential final indignity for 58-year-old White, who was so agonisingly denied his sport’s ultimate prize, his defeat is likely to mean he will fall off the tour, and require either success at Q School or a wild-card in order to keep his career alive.
A clearly crestfallen White admitted: “I’m just so disappointed with how badly I played, I can’t really think about what I’m going to do at the moment.
“I’m just going to wait and see how the results go in the next few days, and then make a decision. I’ve been playing well in practice then to come into the match and play like that is really frustrating and demoralising.”
For Hendry, six years White’s junior, his dream of stepping back out at the Crucible will recommence against China’s Xu Si on Wednesday.
Hendry, who returned to the tour after a nine-year absence with a defeat to his friend Matt Selt in the Gibraltar Open last month, needs to win three more matches to seal an unlikely return and is aware he needs to significantly improve.
The nostalgic two-week build-up to this remarkable first qualifying round meeting descended into an error-strewn affair, with the pair’s average shot times cascading towards the half-minute mark, and the first three frames taking over 100 minutes to complete.
After Hendry dredged up the snooker on the pink he required to take a marathon third frame – remarkably with a top break of just seven – he joked to referee Leo Scullion: “You’re in for a long night”.
Unfortunately for White, who appeared stricken with nerves, his inability to take advantage of countless opportunities gifted him by the Scot led to Scullion at least ensuring he would complete his duties the right side of midnight.
Three-time world champion Mark Williams summed up the soporific nature of the action by tweeting: “Enjoyed watching the Jimmy and Hendry match it brought back memories – but I cannot watch any more.”
Breaks of 38 and 53 in the fourth frame helped Hendry extend his advantage to 3-1 at the mid-session interval, and White, who has tried and failed to return to the Crucible every year since 2006, cut a dejected figure at the break.
A jawed red by White in the fifth frame allowed Hendry to move 4-1 in front, and White could have been forgiven some painful flashbacks in the next when, having missed a frame ball red on a break of 58, Hendry coolly step up to move one frame from victory.
White dredged his second frame of the match to reduce the deficit to 5-2, and despite being plainly stricken with nerves, culminating in a near-calamitous miscue midway through the frame, White somehow won another to prolong the agony.
With the tension beginning to build, Hendry amassed a 41-point lead over his first two visits in the next, and a terrific long red made sure he did not spurn his third opportunity to put the frame and match to bed.