Stephen Hendry sets the bar in most calculations for snooker greatness, but with the tour now featuring 20 ranking events, can anyone catch his record of 36 titles?
The World Snooker Tour is currently enjoying a golden generation in terms of the depth in talent. There are more tournaments than ever before, but most of them start with all 128 players in a flat draw, and even the top players can face tough draws from the first round onwards.
So is it easier for today’s leading stars to collect titles with so many on offer, or harder because of the circuit’s strength in depth?
Looking over his shoulder? Hendry’s record of 36 ranking wins is vulnerable
During the 1990/1991 season a 23-year-old Stephen Hendry, who had just become the youngest ever World Champion, won five of the eight ranking events. Last season, 26 years on, Mark Selby matched that record of five ranking title in a single campaign. However, there were 13 different winners across the 19 tournaments.
Eurosport pundit and ranking event winner Neal Foulds played throughout the 80s and 90s and in recent years has watched countless hours of snooker from the commentary box. He believes that despite Selby’s remarkable recent run, no player will produce the consistent dominance that Hendry enjoyed.
“It is a lot more difficult now to accumulate a large number of ranking titles,” said the former world number three. “The overall standard these days is much higher and you can’t get away from that. When I used to play there were invariably some qualifying matches where you would draw a player you would have no difficulty beating. Now there are no free games.
“When you had Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis dominating, they were head and shoulders above the rest and they just used to beat everybody. They were snooker animals. When they won an event, they would simply start their preparation for the next one and they could do that because there were only a few events a season. Now there are not only more tournaments, but also different formats. The short events with best of sevens are very difficult to win. Last year’s Home Nations had four different winners and even Mark Selby didn’t really come close to winning any of them.”
Most career ranking titles
Stephen Hendry 36
Ronnie O’Sullivan 31
John Higgins 29
Steve Davis 28
Mark Williams 19
Ding Junhui 13
Mark Selby 13
Neil Robertson 13
Jimmy White 10
Peter Ebdon 9
John Parrott 9
Judd Trump 8
Shaun Murphy 7
It remains to be seen whether one of snooker’s younger generation, such as Judd Trump or Ding Junhui, can go on to catch Hendry’s record of 36 titles, but in the shorter term the greatest challengers are Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins.
“It would be amazing if I could get close to Hendry,” said 42-year-old Higgins. “It could be done, there are so many more tournaments to play in now and if I could get on a run and win a couple you never know. Just to go above Steve Davis is brilliant.”
Another player who played in the 90’s and is still going strong in the present day is the man who Higgins beat to lift his maiden world title in 1998, Ken Doherty. The Irishman, who has six ranking titles to his name, thinks that the taste of silverware is now far more accessible. The 1997 World Champion believes that Hendry’s position at the top of the tree may not be a safe one.
Doherty said: “You could possibly see someone surpass Hendry. It is different now. With 20 ranking events in a season, it is possible for somebody to do it. If the likes of Selby, Robertson and Ding on 13 don’t do it, then the generation after certainly will. When you have so many tournaments, you get so many more opportunities to win.
“I don’t think it is harder to win one now, it is probably easier. You have Mark King and Anthony Hamilton winning ranking events. They didn’t win one twenty years ago. There won’t be many players come along that are as good as Hendry, Davis, O’Sullivan or Higgins. They dominated for years, but nobody really dominates now. You still have the likes of O’Sullivan and Higgins winning now and realistically they are ten years beyond their peak. Having said that, the players lower down the rankings are a lot better. The first round has certainly got tougher.”
Having spent nearly three years at the top of the world rankings and won three of the last four World Championship titles, Selby is the closest thing the current era has to Hendry’s dominance. Last season he became only the third man after Hendry and Ding to win five ranking events in a season. However, 34-year-old Selby knows how tough it will be to set any new records.
“I have achieved my targets by becoming World Champion and world number one. Now I just want to win as many tournaments as I can,” said the Jester from Leicester. “Last year was a ridiculous season really. Especially when you look at the standard of play nowadays. I remember going to the Awards Dinner the year Ding won five and thinking that nobody will do that again. A couple of years down the line I have done it myself, which is quite amazing. Hopefully I can have more of the same this season, but if not I won’t be too disappointed because I know how difficult it is.”