sport

Davis the great survivor

Steve Davis is fine-tuning his preparations for his 33rd shot at UK Championship glory, when the tournament gets underway in York on Saturday.

Stephen Hendry this year traded in life on tour for a new career split between promoting pool in China and his role as a BBC pundit, and Ronnie O'Sullivan is taking a complete break that could yet become permanent.

But on goes Davis, snooker's proud survivor and great ambassador, who at the age of 55 lends irrefutable star quality to the line-up of snooker's second most prestigious ranking tournament, beginning in York on Saturday.

The 'Nugget' might be greying and thinning on top, however there is no meaner competitor in the Barbican Centre line-up, and his first-round opponent Ali Carter will rightly be wary of his fellow Essex potter when they go head to head tomorrow.

"He's a one-off," says last year's UK Championship runner-up Mark Allen.

"He's been around for so long and is still wanting to compete at the top level."

Davis won the UK Championship six times in the 1980s, taking his first title at Preston's Guildhall as a 23-year-old in 1980, and was against all expectations a runner-up in 2005 when his fairytale run was halted by Ding Junhui.

With his long-time agent and best friend Barry Hearn helming World Snooker for the last two years, Davis has set himself the modest target of keeping his world ranking lower than his age.

When he slipped out of the top 50 at the end of last season, there was cause for concern, but he has since nudged back up to 48th.

"I think part of the reason Steve is still here is because of Barry Hearn," said Allen.

"When Barry came in (as World Snooker chairman), it was probably around the time Steve was maybe thinking about retiring.

"I don't think it would have been good for his team - obviously he's been with Barry a long, long time - if he'd have walked away just as Barry came in. So he's maybe thinking, 'I can have a free go for a couple of years and then maybe drift off into the sunset'.

"He just keeps pulling out results though still, that's the problem. People think, 'Can he do it? Can he do it?'."

At that point, Allen has a disappointing message for Davis supporters.

"Unfortunately I don't think he can," said the 26-year-old Northern Irishman, ranked eighth in the world.

"In the long run the consistency of the top players will probably get the better of him here in York, but for somebody to win qualifying matches the way he did - 6-2 against Jamie Burnett with a break of 141 in the last frame to get to York - at the age of 55 or at any age is astounding."