Stephen Hendry’s comeback opponent Matthew Selt has warned the record seven-time world champion he risks tarnishing his reputation as he prepares for his first professional match in nine years at the Gibraltar Open.
Hendry is adamant he has “no expectations” ahead of his return in Milton Keynes next Tuesday, when he will face Selt, with whom he has been firm friends since they met during a trip to the Shanghai Masters in 2009.
Despite frequently playing golf together and speaking “almost every day”, Selt admits he is still non-plussed as to why the 52-year-old has taken the decision to embark on his unlikely comeback bid.
Selt told the PA news agency: “For someone who dominated the game like he did for 10 years, to make a comeback in the knowledge that he will probably not be able to play to that standard again begs the question of why he is putting himself through it.
“It a question I’ve asked and I haven’t had a satisfactory answer. I can’t quite get my head around it but it deserves unbelievable respect because ultimately he is putting his legacy back in the firing line to be shot down.
“What Stephen is trying to do is a massive step for him. I genuinely hope he enjoys his comeback – if he’s going to get upset at losing he shouldn’t be doing it, but if he’s going to enjoy playing and practising, then everyone in snooker is going to benefit from it.”
Hendry accepted a two-year tour card from World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn in September last year but pulled out of a succession of projected comeback dates, citing his desire not to be “embarrassed” upon his eventual return.
Hendry certainly faces a battle to make an impression, with world number one Judd Trump describing his move as a “strange one” while Ronnie O’Sullivan warned he will be plunged into a “rat race”.
Hendry, who retired after a 13-2 loss to Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals of the 2012 World Championship, told ITV4: “We’re very good friends and I’m looking forward to it. I’m curious to see what will happen and I’m prepared for any result.
“On the practice table I’m probably hitting the ball better than I did when I retired but that means nothing when you go out there.
“You’ve got to get that composure on the match table and that’s what might take a wee while.
“I’ve got no expectations of what will happen but we will see.”
Selt, 35, won his solitary ranking title at the 2019 Indian Open and has twice qualified for the final stages of the World Championships at the Crucible.
The pair have played twice previously, with Selt winning their most recent meeting 5-1 in the last 16 of the 2011 Australian Open, and Hendry winning 5-2 at the 2009 Grand Prix.
Selt added: “I remember going to China for the first time in 2009 and Stephen came over and introduced himself and invited me to dinner. It was such a nice thing for someone of that calibre and status to do, and I never forgot it.
“I think the draw is a bit of a shame, because if I lose people will call me s***, and if he loses people are going to question his decision to come back. But on a personal level I am going to play with a smile on my face and just enjoy it.”