World Snooker Championship Date:
18 April-4 May Venue:
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Coverage:
Live coverage each day on BBC Two, BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website (UK only), updates on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Full TV schedule
Interesting Times - 30 years of Steve Davis at the Crucible
By Bryn Palmer
If Steve Davis has his way, he will still be competing at the Crucible, or wherever the World Championship is held, as a pensioner.
Thirty years after the shy, flame-haired 21-year-old first strode into the Sheffield theatre synonymous with snooker, he returns on Tuesday for a record 29th appearance.
"Somewhere down the line I'd like to be walking round the table and have my first fall," he jokes as he contemplates his remarkable longevity in the game.
"It happened to Fred Davis [three-time world champion from 1948-51] at about 70, and he was still playing at that age.
"It is a challenge to keep yourself as good as you can while the standard keeps getting better."
At 51, it is a challenge Davis shows no sign of ducking.
It may be 20 years since the last of his six world titles, 14 since his last ranking tournament win, or 12 since his last major title, but 'The Nugget' shows no signs of wanting to leave the stage just yet.
"I still enjoy the game," he told BBC Sport. "I don't perhaps love it as much, and am not as 100% committed, as I used to be, but it still fascinates me as a game.
"There are challenges in staying in a game as you get older. It is not a case of how you keep going as much as possibly how much game play you still have left in you.
Even though I may have won the event six times, I look at myself as a complete underdog and am enjoying it as a sort of second coming
"From my perspective it is out of my hands as to how long I stay in the game to some degree. There will come a time when the younger element and the game has progressed so far that it doesn't matter what I do on the table, it just won't be good enough."
As things stand, Davis is still good enough to be judged the 24th best player in the world, according to the provisional rankings, up from 29 at the start of the season.
He dropped out of the top 16 for a second time at the end of last season, having originally lost his place among the elite from 2000 to 2002, but the motivation to compete with the best remains strong.
"I think it is a cop-out to say you can't be as motivated and dedicated any more, and you lose concentration because it doesn't matter as much anymore and there are other things in your life.
"In reality, in a game where you are allowed to be in it for a lot longer than other sports, because it is a non-physical game, other things happen.
"It may not be so obvious because it is a non-physical game, but it relies on quite fine muscle control. As you get older, physically that becomes harder, especially when there is tension involved.
"It is the same with golf. The first thing that goes is the putting because that is the fine-tuning bit, and it is the same with snooker.
"While you might use it as a defence that you are not as motivated, actually, your body - like everybody else - is falling to pieces from the age of 20 and you are struggling to keep control of it.
"So to be at the World Championship and pitting myself against some of the greatest players that have ever held a cue, when we have strength in depth now like you wouldn't believe, I am quite proud.
"Even though I may have won it six times, I look at myself as a complete underdog and am enjoying it as a sort of second coming."
Where Davis is concerned it is more of a third, or fourth, coming.
STEVE DAVIS AT THE CRUCIBLE
1979 - Lost 13-11 in R1 to Dennis Taylor
28 (Did not qualify in 2001 & 2002)
Six times (1981, 83, 84, 87, 88, 89)
Twice (1985, 86)
Three times (1990, 91, 94)
Three times (1980, 96, 2005)
Five times (1993, 97, 98, 00, 06)
Nine times (1979, 82, 92, 95, 99, 03, 04, 07, 08)
Won 58 Lost 22
He won the title at the third attempt, in 1981. After suffering the "Crucible Curse" of champions, losing in the first round - 10-1 to Tony Knowles - the following year, he reached seven finals in a row from 1983, winning another five.
By the end of the 1980s, he had won 40 matches out of 45 at The Crucible, his sixth title at the age of 31 bringing a record margin of final victory - 18-3 - against his fellow TV analyst John Parrott.
That was 20 years ago. Davis remained a contender until the mid-1990s, reaching the semi-finals in three of the next five years.
But the phenomenal interest in snooker he helped to create, and the subsequent rise in emerging players capable of winning tournaments, hastened his own descent from the top.
At 42, when he finally dropped out of the elite in 2000, 'The Ginger Magician' could easily have slipped into retirement, his legacy as one of the all-time greats long assured.
But after two years of failing to qualify for the World Championship, Davis was back at the Crucible in 2003, and every year since.
He reached the quarter-finals in 2005, and later that year went on to reach the final of the UK Championship, his 100th career final, only to lose to rising Chinese star Ding Junhui, 30 years his junior.
Despite dropping out of the elite again 12 months ago, meaning he had to qualify this year, he is far from a spent force.
This season he reached the quarter-finals of consecutive ranking tournaments - the Shanghai Masters and the Grand Prix in Glagow - for the first time since 1996.
In the latter tournament, he overcame Neil Robertson 5-4 in a nervous final-frame decider. The Australian, ranked 10th, just happens to be his first-round opponent in Sheffield.
You can have all the music and smoke you like but when you get down to it, it is a game of snooker with balls on a table, and if you don't like that, you don't like it
At a time when the future of snooker is uncertain, the enduring presence of Davis - when contemporaries such as Jimmy White (aged 46) and Parrott (44) are no longer in the top 50 - is a reassuring one.
So does he endorse Ronnie O'Sullivan's view that the game is "dying" on its feet, and in need of a radical shake-up?
"I would say the game has reached the ultimate peak it was ever going to reach in the UK, but interestingly in certain parts of Europe and China, the game has an 80s-style feel to it," he notes. "The people watching are very motivated by what they see.
"I think the British public don't watch as much as they used to. Possibly they have moved on, or they just don't watch as much television as they used to, but I don't think the game needs a major overhaul. It would be nice obviously for sponsorship to be better, but then every sport is struggling in that department.
"You can have all the music and smoke you like but when you get down to it, it is a game of snooker with balls on a table, and if you don't like that, you don't like it."
Davis does, and is still rather good at removing them from the table.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.