Snooker: Hendry hits his groove at start of heavyweight duel

 

Stephen Hendry hit the front in his long-awaited first Crucible meeting with his fellow Scot John Higgins in Sheffield.

The pair, who have 11 world titles between them, had always avoided each other at the Crucible until this second-round tussle. Hendry had to qualify this year but his maximum break against Stuart Bingham in the previous round confirmed the 43-year-old as a man in form, and he ran in breaks of 81, 69, 93, 123 and 67 to seize a 5-3 lead in the first session of the best-of-25-frames match yesterday.

Higgins, the 36-year-old four-time world champion, took the opening two frames, but Hendry, who won the last of his record seven world titles in 1999, then responded with two classy breaks to draw level at 2-2.

Yet both players showed signs of nerves in a sluggish first frame. Eventually, Higgins crept ahead and pulled 2-0 clear thanks to a 52 break.

Hendry then responded. He was denied a century in frame three when, 19 short of three figures, he rattled the green in the jaw before firing in a swift run of 69 that ended when he clipped one red into another, presenting Higgins with an opening. Higgins began picking off the points but snookered himself behind the blue, failed to connect with a red, and Hendry punished the mistake to take the frame.

Higgins returned from the interval to ram in the first century of the match, a rapid 124 to restore his lead, but it was the last frame he won in the session as Hendry reeled off three in a row.

Tamworth's David Gilbert, who had to win four qualifying matches to reach the Crucible, looked to be nearing the end of his adventure as he slipped further behind against Neil Robertson.

World No 68 Gilbert was 5-3 behind overnight and breaks of 76, 77, 82 and 92 from Robertson helped the world number three pull 10-6 clear.

Thirty-year-old Gilbert took the final frame of the session to give himself a slight hope heading into last night's conclusion to the match.

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