Ronnie O’Sullivan has called for legends such as Stephen Hendry to be handed Crucible wild cards if they fail to qualify for the Betfred.com World Championship by right.
Hendry is considering retiring from snooker, and confirmed yesterday that the 13-4 second-round defeat he suffered at the hands of Mark Selby might be the last match he plays in Sheffield.
The 42-year-old survives in the top 16 by the skin of his teeth, but would have dropped out if Stuart Bingham had converted a 12-9 lead into victory over Ding Junhui last night, rather than falter with victory in sight.
The elite 16 qualify by right for tournaments, while the rest play preliminary events, which have never appealed to seven-time world champion Hendry.
O’Sullivan believes snooker chiefs should make an effort to keep players with star quality and strong track records in the sport, with wild cards his suggestion. “Wimbledon does it,” he said. “They invited back Goran Ivanisevic and what a fantastic storyline that was (when the Croatian won the 2001 title). He wouldn’t have even been in the tournament. He’s a class act and he can do it on his day. So I honestly believe if Wimbledon can do it, why can’t the World Championship do it?
“Hendry’s a legend, (Steve) Davis is a legend, Jimmy White is a legend, I’m sure there’s room for them in the tournament. It certainly wouldn’t take anything away from the tournament. Sometimes I think you have to make exceptions for legends.”
Hendry was careful not to announce a snap retirement decision in the wake of his defeat to Selby. “I’ll decide in the summer,” the Scot said. “I’m not going to decide straight away, I’ve got things to think about. We’ll see. I’ve still got the game but I haven’t got the self-belief to play with these guys.”
With £8.8million banked in prize money, 36 ranking event titles, many more non-ranking triumphs, eight years as world number one and 10 maximum 147 breaks, to many observers Hendry is the greatest of all time.
John Higgins, who together with Selby has urged Hendry to play on, puts his old practice partner and Steve Davis “neck and neck”.
But Hendry last won a ranking event six years ago, at the Malta Cup, and has not triumphed at the UK Championship, Masters or World Championship - the three most prestigious events on the calendar - this century.
Even though recent form has left Hendry dispirited, he would retire with very few regrets.
“If someone said you could have 26 years here, win it seven times and be in two more finals, make two 147s, I think most people would take that,” said the emotional Scot. “I’ve not had a bad time here. I wasn’t a bad player. I’ve won the World Championship seven times which is a record the last time I looked.”