Hector NunnsThu, 25 March 2021, 11:08 am
For Jimmy White, a renewal of rivalries with Stephen Hendry is enough to unleash a flood of memories – but few of them are happy ones.
Both men might now be in their fifties and well past their prime – Hendry only returned to the circuit earlier this month – but their reunion in the first round of qualifying for the Betfred World Championship in April promises to be one of snooker’s red-letter occasions.
For White, however, the draw was bittersweet. In four World Championship finals between 1990 and 1994, White was beaten by Hendry: all left scars, although the deepest wounds were inflicted in 1992, when he lost despite being 14-8 ahead, and then 18-17 two years later.
While Hendry clocked up a record seven titles in total, White never did win a world final, although he was crowned the ‘People’s Champion’, with public sympathy cranking up after each apparently impossible defeat.
White’s free-spirited playing style was an endearing contrast to Hendry’s more clinical approach, but the fact he was just as much a ‘Whirlwind’ in his private life ultimately proved decisive in denying him a title.
In his own autobiography White, now 58, claimed “I am lucky to be alive…I know drugs probably cost me 10 world titles”.
Speaking after the draw against Hendry, he said: “I have beaten Stephen in the World Championship a couple of times, but unfortunately they aren’t the ones everyone talks about.
“I lost the four finals to him…but in those [early 1990s] days I was giving him a head start of about 10 grams of cocaine and four bottles of Jack Daniels.
“I came very close in winning two of the finals against him. In 1992 I was 14-8 up and getting my winning speech ready, but lost the next 10 frames.
“And then in 1994 I twitched a black in the decider at 17-17. But it is what it is, and I might not have been here if I had won the World Championship the way I was.”
White and Hendry’s rivalry was always a friendly one – the Scot had practised with White, six years his senior, when he was just 13, and left an indelible impression even then.
“I knew he was something special straight away and he became one of the greatest players the game has seen,” White added. “I played the majority of my best years against legends, two of the best ever in Steve Davis and Stephen. Steve was a bit more conservative at the table.
“And then there was this fantastic potter Stephen that came along and I had to compete against both. We have had so many battles not only at the World Championship but throughout our careers. And to draw each other at this stage of our careers is very bizarre.”
Either player would need to win four matches to get back to the Crucible. Hendry’s last appearance was in 2012, while White has not got to Sheffield since 2006, but the Londoner’s head is still spinning that fate has taken a hand, and given him a chance of some revenge so late in his career.
“I didn’t even see the draw announced on TV this week, or see it in any email,” he said. “I had just finished practising, turned my phone on and I saw that I had two missed calls from Stephen.
“That on its own wasn’t too strange because we had been practising together recently. But I started thinking he wouldn’t call me twice so quickly like that to arrange a session.
“So I started to suspect what might have happened. I called him back, he said ‘Can you believe that’, and then I knew.
“It is absolutely bizarre, something from the snooker gods for sure. It is one that a lot of people might enjoy and look forward to.
“My closing line to him was that we wouldn’t be having a practice together before that match. But for me, I have found a bit of form and whoever I played, that is what I would be taking into it.
“I know that I will be playing him Tuesday week, and it is all about being ready for that. I haven’t stopped practising for about two or three years now. I’m much more disciplined than I used to be.”