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Hendry set for snooker return as Davis handed lifeline

ESPN staff
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Barry Hearn is keen for a completely level playing field in snooker © PA Photos
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Stephen Hendry could come out of retirement while Steve Davis could be handed a career lifeline after World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn announced new changes to the professional tour on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Crucible during the 2014 World Championship, Hearn revealed that both Hendry, who retired two years ago, and Davis would be "shoo-ins" to receive special invitations to certain events on the pro tour.

In events featuring fewer than 128 professional players, Hearn stated that up to four invitations would be handed to "players who have won multi-ranking titles in their career and selected in favour of those who have made a significant contribution to the sport of snooker."

Champion of Champions to return

  • Matchroom Sport have confirmed the return of snooker's Champions of Champions.
  • Ronnie O'Sullivan won the inaugural event at Coventry's Ricoh Arena in 2013 and has been invited back this year to compete for the £100,000 top prize.
  • World No.1 and UK Championship winner Neil Robertson will also get an invite, as will Ding Junhui, who recently equalled Stephen Hendry's record of five ranking titles in a season.

Hearn said: "They will be in order of lifetime tour earnings to participate on the pro tour for the next two seasons based on the following terms.

"As you know there are 132 players on the tour in major ranking events and 120 players in Players Tour events to allow us the opportunity to give eight local amateurs an opportunity via qualifying competitions.

"Should additional players be required to complete the 128 or the 120 player fields, they will be selected from Q School rankings, derived from 2014 Q School events.

"These names, we've said today at a board meeting, will be announced following the conclusion of the 2014 World Championship. It doesn't take a genius to say that two of the names are shoo-ins, with Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis receiving invitations and we have the opportunity should we feel it necessary to invite other players up to a maximum of four."

Hearn also confirmed a format change at the 2015 World Championship. The field will be increased to 144 players and all living former world champions will receive an invitation to play. The top 16 players, finalised after next year's China Open, will still be seeded to the Crucible.

The previous champions will be invited to play in the first round stage of the World Championship, which sees seeds 17-144 play in a flat draw format. The 64 round one losers will receive no prize money.

The 64 round one winners will then play each other in round two, before the 32 winners play out round three. The triumphant 16 go on to play the 16 seeded players at the Crucible. All rounds will continue in the best of 19 format.

"The interesting one for me is the World Championship," Hearn said. "The fact we are going back to almost the US Masters model, because I would like Ray Reardon to play.

"I'd like him to turn up - he is invited. He is a past world champion, he is a living world champion and I'm not saying that he is going to win a game but then again most of the old participants in the golf weren't expected to win either. They added something and it was a way of still respecting the lifetime achievement that they have made.

"So whether Cliff Thorburn, Terry Griffiths, Dennis Taylor, Joe Johnson, they have now got their chance to live again the World Championship and who should deny them, as long as it is not coming at the expense of somebody else."

Despite offering invitations to both Hendry and Davis, Hearn remains keen to level snooker's playing field as much as possible. A flat 128-player draw could soon be introduced at both the Shanghai Masters and Australian Open

Furthermore, Hearn stated that, as of the 2014/15 season, top 16 players who are seeded through the early rounds at tournaments but go on to lose their first match will still receive prize money, but it will not count towards their ranking. This rule change also accounts for next year's World Championship.

"I want a system in snooker that is totally open, totally transparent and totally available to every professional player who picks up a cue based on fairness and quality of play," Hearn said.

"We are currently negotiating with Shanghai and Australia to fall into line with 128 players in round one, from 2015 for Shanghai and from 2016 for Australia.

"Until a flat draw system is introduced, the top 16 players seeded through who do not win a match will receive their prize money, but none of it will count towards their world ranking, with effect from the 2014/15 season.

"I can't entertain a system any longer that rewards players with ranking prize money when in fact they haven't actually won a game on a snooker table."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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