Crucible's imposing cauldron holds no fears for Bond

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It may sound like an endorsement for the "flog 'em" brigade, but there is little doubt that a public thrashing was the making of Nigel Bond. Indeed it might make him into a world champion.

The lugubrious-looking Bond was routed 18-9 in the final of the Embassy World Championship last year, which for most people would be either character building or crushing. Fortunately for the 12th seed the former seems to be the case.

Earlier this month he won his first world ranking tournament, the British Open in Plymouth, and yesterday reached the quarter-finals at The Crucible, crushing James Wattana 13-4. That included a run of eight successive frames in the second session.

"Nigel is so nice," Ian Doyle - Bond and Stephen Hendry's manager - said, "he needed toughening up. Hendry smacked his behind in that final and he's a better player for it."

Ahead 12-4 overnight, Bond quickly finished off Wattana yesterday. Just 20 minutes of the third session and breaks of 53 and 15 were required to take the frame he needed. It set him looking ahead to his next opponent, Dave Harold, and beyond.

"I would love to experience the arena when there's one table again," the 30-year-old from Darley Dale, Derbyshire, said. "With two tables The Crucible feels really tight. With one it's massive. It's an unbelievable experience playing in it."

For Wattana, the defeat rounded off a depressing year in which he has reached only one quarter-final and could have had the advertising standards people examining him if he continued with his Typhoon nickname. "There's nothing wrong with me in practice," he said. "It's my head that's not clever. The confidence is not there. I can't play where I'm looking four or five shots ahead.

"Losing eight frames in a row was painful. It's never happened to me before. I didn't play well but neither did Nigel. He was just nicking them."

As Bond says, he is stealing frames now where he was losing them two months ago. Harold was beaten 6-5 in the semi-finals of the British Open and John Higgins succumbed 9-8 in the final, both of which were testimonials to Bond's nerve.

Yesterday Higgins also reached the last eight where he could face Ronnie O'Sullivan, pending the decision of the inquiry into the latter's alleged assault of a press officer.

Last year the 20-year-old Scot arrived in Sheffield amid much ballyhoo and retreated quickly after being beaten 10-3 in the first round. It was a result he put down to his inexperience of The Crucible.

"The place seemed to close in on me," he said. "I found myself thinking more about the venue than the match and against someone like Alan McManus you can't afford to do that." A neat gauge of his progress this year, in which he has won the German and International Opens, was provided by his opponent in the second round: McManus.

This time it was Higgins, the second favourite, who prevailed, clinching a match he led 12-4 overnight with a break of 77. "I'm proud of myself," the 11th seed said. "Alan is one of the best players in the world so to win 13-5 was wonderful. I feel comfortable in the arena now. The first time I came I was never in the swing. It still looks small to me but it's getting bigger all the time."

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Sheffield) Second round: J Higgins (Sco) bt A McManus (Sco) 13-5; N Bond (Eng) bt J Wattana (Thai) 13-4.

O'Sullivan's troubled genius, page 25