Matt Selt knows he is just a bit-part in the Stephen Hendry comeback drama – and admits to being in a “no-win situation”.
Record seven-time world champion Hendry, 52, finally emerges from nine years of retirement hibernation on Tuesday at the Gibraltar Open.
And for the big occasion fate has thrown him close friend, practice partner and regular golfing buddy Selt as a first challenge.
Against anyone else world No25 Selt would be cheering Hendry on louder than most.
But while the 35-year-old insists he will be giving everything for the victory such an outcome would in his view “make me about as popular as the man who shot Bambi’s mum”.
Though their head-to-head record stands at 1-1, Selt can point to a single ranking title success in India two years ago compared to Hendry’s 36 including all the Crucible crowns.
Selt said: “It’s nice to be the centre of the snooker universe for a change! Listen, when I heard the draw I couldn’t stop laughing.
“It probably makes it easier for him unfortunately that we are friends, coming back after such a long time. I fear he’ll feel more at ease, and has a better chance of putting in a performance.
“I’m expecting all guns blazing from him. He’s playing snooker in a setting that, even now, he’s more used to than I am. He only ever played on the main table.
“Of course, I am going to be trying my best to win and beat him, but there is also something big happening. If I beat him I’d be as popular as the man that shot Bambi’s mother.
“I am in a no-win situation, aren’t I? I am the tour professional for the last nine years, and am in the top 32. I am expected to win and if I do, great. If I don’t it will be ‘You’re useless’.
“But it is a privilege and an honour to be the person playing him in his return to the sport and I am genuinely happy he’s back. That friendship is one of the few really good things I’ll take from snooker.
“And I’d rather be part of a match where he plays OK anyway. He is only coming back because he has been practising and thinks he can play well, so I hope he does.
“I have practised with Stephen more than anyone else in the last year. He was and remains uber aggressive. If those balls go in, he could take some beating.
“He has attributes that 99 per cent of the tour cannot buy or work on…unbelievable bottle, won more than anyone else. So for him it is about getting used to it all again.
“I have never been close to the top 16, and whenever I play on TV I seem to sh*t myself. So it’s a good game for me too, having that spotlight but against a friend.”
One field of sporting rivalry where Selt was used to having the upper hand is on the golf course. But even in his usual area of superiority the gap has been closing.
With the pair both rated at three and below under the new handicap system, Selt added: “Golf, that is a different story, he is not in the same league as me.
“The difference in golfing quality is the same as him at his pomp in snooker against me at my best!
“I normally came out on top, but just not in recent times. He was playing every day at Sunningdale, where he is a member, and has given me a couple of good beatings.
“I think I’ve lost the last four or five, but the ten years prior to that he couldn’t get close to me.
“We play there, the Belfry, the Wisley with John Terry a couple of times. And I caddied for Stephen at Wentworth in a Pro Am with Dwight Yorke, my hero as a kid as a mad Aston Villa fan.”
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