Stephen Hendry is set to come out of retirement and Steve Davis has received a career lifeline after World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn handed the old stagers a unique route back on to the professional tour.
Snooker chiefs ruled out handing the pair full two-year tour cards but seven-times world champion Hendry, who retired two years ago, and six-times winner Davis will play at a number of tournaments next season. They could even be back at the Crucible in 12 months’ time.
Hearn admitted giving a free pass to Davis, who he has managed for many years, could be seen as an old pals’ act, given Davis fell out of the elite 64 this season to slip off the main tour.
Davis hampered his chances by going on last autumn’s ITV show I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, meaning he missed the UK Championship.
“It was a split decision in my head,” said Hearn. “I went for friendship and loyalty. I don’t know if I’m guilty of that, but, if I am, I plead guilty as well.”
Hearn added: “Stephen Hendry, I understand, is getting quite serious about playing so we’ll have to see what form he brings and how often he wants to play.”
Up to four senior players will be invited back to the tour. “Two are shoo-ins with Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis receiving invitations,” Hearn added. “And we have the opportunity to invite other players up to a maximum of four.”
The third invitation will go to Jimmy White if he falls off tour, which he will if Ding Junhui’s conqueror Michael Wasley reaches the World Championship quarter-finals.
Hendry, 45, and Davis, 56, will face the challenge of qualifying events before the big stage beckons and, if the qualifiers are full with the 128 players who earn tour cards by right, then neither will be invited.
Hearn also announced that all living former world champions will be entitled to play in the qualifying rounds for next year’s Crucible tournament, meaning the likes of Dennis Taylor, Cliff Thorburn, Terry Griffiths and even Ray Reardon could feature. “I’d like Ray Reardon to play,” Hearn said. “He’s invited. I’m not saying he’s going to win a game.”
Davis, speaking on BBC Two, said he was torn about the idea of a wild card, given it could knock a young player down to the amateur ranks. “I feel more comfortable accepting on a tournament-by-tournament basis if they haven’t had a full level of entries than accepting a tour card for two years that does bump someone out,” he said.
“Stephen Hendry is an interesting concept. Stephen retired and all of a sudden made noises he might like to play in a few events. Wouldn’t it be nice to see him back? Yes, if he fancied it.”
Meanwhile, at The Crucible, Judd Trump survived a test of nerve on a day his form deserted him to edge through to the second round of the World Championship.
Runner-up to John Higgins in 2011, Trump was well beaten in the semi-finals by Ronnie O’Sullivan last year and has endured a mediocre 2013-14 season, with a run to the German Masters final his best effort.
The 24-year-old was again out of sorts in the second session of his clash with Tom Ford, seeing a 6-2 overnight lead reined as the Leicester-based qualifier got it back to 8-8, and another major shock, after the early defeats for Ding and John Higgins, was in the offing. But Trump ground out two attritional frames to win 10-8 and set up a second-round clash with Ryan Day.
Trump said: “Every time I got in I didn’t feel comfortable. It doesn’t matter how you play if you become world champion.”