Hendry's coach explains rebuilding process: The work he's doing his exceptional

Stephen Hendry is producing ‘exceptional’ work on the practice table and is showing plenty of signs of his old self ahead of his return to professional snooker, says his coach and major player in his comeback, Stephen Feeney.

Hendry plays his first professional match since 2012 on Tuesday night when he takes on Matt Selt in the first round of the Gibraltar Open, finally capitalising on the two-year wildcard he was handed at the start of the season.

The 52-year-old has been out of the game for a long time and practiced very little for much of that spell, so there is great intrigue over where his skills stand in 2021.

The seven-time world champion has been working with Feeney and his SightRight methods for over a year now and has been given the confidence to compete once again, with the ultimate goal of a sensational return to the Crucible.

Feeney’s method is based around sighting the ball correctly, which is surprisingly something that many players do not do with some inadvertently aiming to miss pots as they are incorrectly aligned.

He has worked successfully with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and Dave Gilbert and believes he is managing to ‘put the pieces back together’ of the old Stephen Hendry.

The Scot famously suffered with the yips at the end of his previous spell on tour, but Feeney believes this was down to technical issues that crept into his game that he is capable of fixing.

‘I think it’s fair to say Stephen would score his game 1/10 when he came to me,’ Feeney told Metro.co.uk.

‘We’ve worked on everything around his alignment, his cue action, a lot of things in dealing with perfect sighting alignment, educating the eyes to do the right thing and aim in the right way then certain things build automatically behind that.

‘If you imagine picking up a gun and you’re off-line, if you fire to hit the target, however you’re holding that gun you’re technique is going to move that gun because instinctively you know you’re missing. So when someone’s off-line and badly off-line, you get a lot of movement.

‘Stephen has always known that he had a view of his yips. I put it down to certain technical things that started to happen. I believe he went off-line, technical things crept in and we had a seven-time world champion missing.

‘Some people said it was because he was losing and all sorts of things, but you don’t just become a bad player overnight. If you’re a great player you’ve got to do something wrong and persistently wrong for things to happen.

‘It could even be something as simple as someone putting on weight and losing their natural sighting line, You can suddenly get someone who is used to potting balls at leisure to someone who starts to miss and feel vulnerable.

‘If you’re missing because of technical errors, then that becomes a mental issue but it’s secondary. You lose confidence because you’re missing, so I go to the root problem.’

Feeney is supremely confident that Hendry’s problems of nearly a decade ago have been cured and the confidence issues that saw him leave the sport have been solved.

Not to say that Hendry will come out firing from ball one on Tuesday night, looking like he could win an eighth world title, but his game has been put back together to reach a point at which he can compete.

‘If there’s anything going wrong technically, a typical character like Stephen will ultimately back off from the game, which is what he did because he couldn’t see how to put things right. But now he’s back he’s beginning to see a different story,’ said Feeney.

‘Back in 2012 lots of things were going on, he made his decision to retire and we’re now in a situation where if he brings 1/10 to me I can put it back together with him as long as he’s got the heart and the drive.

‘His eyes are okay, there’s nothing physically stopping him playing a great game of snooker. The confidence level will start to improve and his composure with match practice will start to improve because he’ll start to trust himself more.

‘I won’t give a score where he is at the minute, but his own comments are that his cue action is better than it was 10 years ago. People kind of pigeonhole me through SightRight to only perfect sighting alignment, but I coach across the whole game.

‘Stephen is learning the ability to strike the ball in a better way and we’re having a fun time and putting in hard work.’

Feeney has worked with a number of top players, not just in snooker but also in golf and darts, and has come across all sorts of different types of students.

However people take to his methods, Feeney always aims to prove what he is doing by allowing his students to do things they have never done before, something that Hendry is finding himself, even at 52-years-old.

‘Stephen just listened and got on with it,’ Feeney said of Hendry’s learning style. ‘Mark [Williams] was the same. You might have another player who asks loads of questions, wants to know the ins-and-outs and detail.

‘With Ronnie…Stephen and Ronnie are two completely different characters to work with in sessions. My job in each and every session is to show them that perhaps they can do things that they weren’t able to do before.

‘If you’re always raising the bar in their skillset and ability, that creates a different belief in them. “Wow I never used to be able to do that. I’m the seven-time world champion and I never used to be able to do that!”

‘If I said to you, there could be a lot of people that look at Stephen and think, “that’s the same old Stephen.” He’s learned to trust himself with the SightRight methods, to trust himself with the cue action that we’ve built, that we’ve put back together again. I’ve done this with dart players, learning to trust becomes very, very important.’

We saw the first flashes of the new/old Hendry at the World Seniors Championship last August when he reached the semi-final before losing to Jimmy White.

His old rival is as intrigued as anyone to see how he gets on in his comeback and has even been down to help him practice, along with another former World Championship final foe, Ken Doherty.

‘He didn’t play well against Jimmy but I believe that’s a long way away now,’ said Feeney. ‘He’s enjoying playing practice partners, Jimmy’s been down to play him, Ken’s been down to play him. He wants to play.

‘I’m not going to say that he’s going to get a bloody nose in Gibraltar at all, but it’s mostly about Stephen getting back in there, finding some composure and enjoying competing.

‘When he played Jimmy White there was just a little lack of composure there, but some of the stuff he’s doing in practice and the work we’ve done on his cue action is exceptional.

‘We know where we’re at, we know what could happen. The most important thing is he goes out there and enjoys it, enjoys the pressure. Pressure is a perspective, but he’s got to enjoy being there and then that readies us for the World Championship qualifiers.’

If Hendry is to return to the Crucible this year he will have to come through every round of qualifying as he sits at the bottom end of the rankings ahead of his return.

Turning up in Milton Keynes this week for the Gibraltar Open is all about getting the match sharpness back in preparation for that task.

‘He needs the race, needs the competitive game to sharpen him up under pressure,’ said Feeney. ‘It’s a completely different world out there, you can play people in practice but it’s never the same until you get under the lights, it really isn’t.

‘Gibraltar is a case of go out, enjoy it, come what may. If he goes deep into this tournament, maybe very deep…come what may.

‘It’s not that we’ve got no expectation, I’ve got every expectation but I also understand we’re playing best of seven, someone could rattle off a few big breaks. Stephen could do that to Matt, Matt could do that to Stephen in a best of seven.’

Feeney also coaches Selt, with Stephen and Matt being close friends, which makes the comeback match all the more interesting.

Playing a good pal might just relax Hendry a bit on his return, although both men will know they will never hear the end of it if they lose.

‘I just said to Matt, “it’s a huge privilege, I bet you feel honoured” and he does,’ said the coach. ‘It’s historic, in a way. The first person to play Stephen Hendry coming back on tour.

‘At the end of the day one of them is going to lose and it’ll be street cred, it’ll be all the things that come with it, the banter that will go on and the stories that will be told, but I think Matt feels quite privileged to be the first person to play him.

‘I said to Matt, “all I want to see is you both playing to your best, because you’ll both come off the table happy.” If you don’t leave anything out there then you can’t have anything to moan about.’

No one knows what is going to happen when Hendry gets out there, back into the intense pressure of the professional game, but Feeney is adamant that his legacy is not on the line.

The Scot cannot destroy the immense achievements he has made in the game, in fact he cannot even damage them in the slightest, whatever happens from here on in.

Not that Feeney is expecting that to be a problem, with the coach envisaging plenty of success for the seven-time world champ.

‘Some people are worried about losing his legacy but there’s no reason that his legacy would be anything but completely intact,’ he said. ‘The courage for him to do what he’s doing is exceptional.

‘Stephen wants to really enjoy the game and with the competitive instinct in him, if he’s enjoying the game and learning to win again then we have a man who is back.’

Hendry and Selt meet at 7pm live on Eurosport.

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