Snooker: No table manners as Higgins hits out at 'bouncy cushions'

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The Independent Online

John Higgins, normally easy-going, described the cushions as "totally unplayable. Some of the reactions were ridiculous at times", as his world title defence ended with a 13-9 defeat by Ryan Day, the new Welsh No 1.

Leading 6-4, 43-0 on Friday, Higgins angrily smashed his hand on a cushion rail when an unduly springy bounce left him out of position. Simmering with frustration, he fell 7-6 behind.

"I let the conditions get to me far too easily," Higgins admitted on reflection, although he was scathingly critical of Michael Ganley, the tournament director, for not ordering a new bed and cushion cloth to be fitted following his request after the first session on Thursday.

While club cloths last months, or even years, the finer championship cloths which promote fast running and maximum responsiveness wear much more quickly so that, in places, there is little to cushion the bounce.

Higgins confessed that he was "flabbergasted" by Ganley's response that new cloths could not be fitted yesterday because of a shortage of manpower. "At most events, the cloths are changed after five days. A chimpanzee could do the maths."

The tight finish was expectedwhen play resumed at 8-8 yesterday but Higgins, in mental disarray, won only one more frame. It was an unsatisfactory defeat but not entirely surprising.

Through reaching two world- ranking finals, the Malta Cup last season and the Shanghai Masters early this, plus the China Open semi-finals last month, Day has risen to a provisional seventhin the rankings, although no player creates a reputation with the general public until he makes a big impact at The Crucible.

"I understand what John is saying," said Day. "There wasn't a lot we could do about it and I think I accepted it better."

In a season which has brought him only one semi-final, Stephen Hendry's quiet assertions about the quality of his practice form and unshaken self-belief have been met with polite scepticism. At 39, he has won neither a major nor minor title in 38 months. Yet there is something special inside him and sometimes, long after it seems to have evaporated for ever, it can be accessed.

Having been on the brink of defeat against Mark Allen in the last round, he seized the decider in a single scoring visit of 72. This gave him the impetus to extinguish 21-year-old Chinese Ding Junhui's last chance to supersede him as the youngest-ever champion, 13-7. "I took my time, was more measured and didn't hand him any chances," Hendry said.

Stephen Maguire, winner of the Northern Ireland Trophy and China Open this season, made breaks of 131, 110 and five more over 50 in an 8-0 opening session whitewash of Neil Robertson and has been installed as the 23-10 favourite for the title.

Shaun Murphy, the 2005 champion, came to Sheffield as the provisional world No 1 only to be trounced 13-4 by Allister Carter, who meets Peter Ebdon in the quarter-finals. Murphy acknowledged "a mixture of Ali's good play and my mistakes", but supported criticisms of the conditions: "We've got a gambling sponsor. Why don't we play the Championship in a casino and have a real game of chance?"

Ronnie O'Sullivan made a 140 clearance en route to securing a 5-3 lead over Mark Williams in a high-quality meeting of the former world champions.

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