Former Indian Open champion Matthew Selt is expecting all out attack from close friend and seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry, when he faces him at this week’s BetVictor Gibraltar Open.
Legendary 36-time ranking event winner Hendry will make his long awaited return to the sport on Tuesday night against Selt. He retired from the professional circuit after the 2012 World Championship, but has elected to take up the offer of an invitational tour card this season.
The draw for the Gibraltar Open pitted the Scot against his friend Selt, who is fully aware of the global media attention that will be fixed upon the first round tie. Selt believes that is a situation which his opponent will be completely comfortable with.
Selt said: “I’m expecting all guns blazing from him. He’s playing snooker on a table that, even now, he’s more used to than I am. He only ever played on table one. He might be nervous at the start of it, but he is in surroundings that he knows a lot better than I do. No matter how well he plays, I’m sure he will feel comfortable with the situation. He was once the greatest player of the sport. Who knows what will happen. He is quite capable of reeling off four frames, so it isn’t a game I will be taking lightly.
“The spotlight has been brought on the sport by his return and I’m the person he is facing. It is something that I hope I can live up to, play well and put in a good performance. I can assure you that there will be a crowd, because I will be watching him and he will be watching me. The pressure will still be there. Let’s make no mistake, he is coming back after a long time and won’t be as good as he was before he retired. At the same time, it is a match where I will be nervous and I will be under it. I’m hoping I can settle and have a good game.”
Selt’s initial reaction after seeing the draw was amusement that he had been pitted against his close friend and he believes it is an occasion which both players will relish. He recalls that their friendship began back in 2009, when he qualified for the Shanghai Masters and made his first trip to China as a professional.
“I don’t see him as a snooker player, I see him as a friend. He went out of his way for me at the 2009 Shanghai Masters. I wanted to go out early and enjoy the experience, with it being my first trip out there. I was meant to be sitting next to Hendry on the plane. This is someone who was the biggest name in the sport. I didn’t want to sit next to him in some ways, because it was a bit daunting. I checked in, got on the plane and he wasn’t sitting next to me. That was a relief as I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself. He came over and introduced himself to me though, which was nice. He had a driver picking him up and he asked me if I wanted to jump in when we landed.
“Once we got to the hotel, I got a call in my room and it was Stephen asking if I wanted to go with him for a practice, which I took him up on. I went back to my room after that and there was another call, this time he was asking if I wanted to go out for dinner with him and his manager. From what I’d heard, he was a bit miserable, that was the impression I had, but it turned out that couldn’t be further from the truth. We went for dinner and it was brilliant. I thought it was such a nice thing for him to do. He basically looked out for me on my first trip to China when I was all on my own as a 24-year-old. He went out of his way. Ever since then, for me we have been the best of friends.
“It was funny more than anything when I saw the draw. I couldn’t stop laughing. Stephen only has one friend in the whole of the world and that is me! Now he is going to have to play me. It’s a little bit funny. I’ll smile the whole way through the game, regardless of the result. It is a friendship I will have when we finish snooker. It is something that means a lot more than whoever wins this week. Whoever loses, people will criticise. If I lose people will say I’m rubbish, if he loses people will ask why he has come back. We will go out there and enjoy it though.”
Selt and Hendry have played only twice before on the professional circuit. Hendry was a 5-2 winner in the first meeting at the 2009 Grand Prix, while Selt eased to a 5-1 win at the 2011 Australian Open.
However, since Hendry’s retirement, sporting meetings between the pair have been restricted to the golf course and it is the Scot who holds the competitive momentum heading into Tuesday’s meeting on the baize.
“On the golf course I normally come out on top, but not in recent times. He was playing every day at Sunningdale and has given me a couple of good beatings, I think I’ve lost the last four or five. The ten years prior to that he couldn’t get close to me. How good he was compared to me at our very best in snooker is the same on the golf course, but the other way round. I’m head and shoulders above him. Every dog has his day though and he has won the recent games.”
This week presents the final opportunity for both players to gain match sharpness in a knockout tournament environment ahead of next month’s World Championship qualifiers, as they bid to clinch a place at the Crucible. Selt believes that both players will head to Sheffield with a realistic chance of making it to snooker’s Theatre of Dreams.
“I will be in the spotlight and expected to win. I’m hoping that scenario will stand me in good stead for the qualifiers. He’s under no pressure and I am. During my snooker career, I haven’t been in the spotlight very often. The first time I played at the Crucible I was and I didn’t perform. Each time I’ve been in the spotlight, apart from the Indian Open, I haven’t performed. History says I will put in a bad performance. I think when you are on that stage and you don’t feel comfortable, it doesn’t matter who you are playing. If I play well then I expect to win, if I don’t then I expect Stephen to win.
“Do I think he can get to the Crucible? Of course he can, but he would have to play well. Will he bottle it? Definitely not. The one thing he has over the field is unbelievable bottle. That is what money can’t buy. If the opportunity presents itself then he will qualify, if he doesn’t qualify it will be because he hasn’t played well enough. It is as simple as that. I would love to see him get there if he isn’t in my section of the draw.”