Snooker: Ebdon speeds up to build four-frame lead over Murphy

Whether stung by criticism of his slow play or simply spurred by his epic comeback against Ronnie O'Sullivan in his world championship quarter-final on Wednesday night, Peter Ebdon made swift headway in his best-of-33 semi-final against Shaun Murphy yesterday to take a 6-2 lead into today's second session at the Crucible in Sheffield.

Whether stung by criticism of his slow play or simply spurred by his epic comeback against Ronnie O'Sullivan in his world championship quarter-final on Wednesday night, Peter Ebdon made swift headway in his best-of-33 semi-final against Shaun Murphy yesterday to take a 6-2 lead into today's second session at the Crucible in Sheffield.

Ebdon's ponderous approach riled O'Sullivan to breakdown point as he averaged 37 seconds per shot, taking five and a half minutes at one stage to hit a break of 12. "I wasn't deliberately slowing Ronnie down," he said afterwards. "I didn't do it intentionally because I have so much respect for Ronnie. I put my heart and soul into every match I play and I just hung in there."

But against Murphy, a 22-year-old qualifier from Rotherham, Ebdon averaged a mere 26 seconds per shot and managed five 50-plus breaks to boot. And whereas the evening session of eight frames on Wednesday lasted more than four and a half hours, eight frames yesterday took just two hours, 14 minutes.

Ebdon, the 2002 winner and the only former champion still in this year's event, took the first frame with runs of 47 and 30.

Murphy should have been the fresher of the two after beating six-times world champion Steve Davis with almost a session to spare on Wednesday. But it was the first time that the 22-year-old player had experienced the one-table environment at the Crucible and he took a while to settle.

He levelled at 1-1 despite missing a slow red on 34, thanks to a clearance of 43. He missed a red in the next when bridging over another ball and Ebdon's 78 edged him back in front. Ebdon entered the mid-session at 3-1 after a break of 70 in the fourth left Murphy requiring snookers.

A hit of 77 enabled Murphy to reduce his deficit to 3-2, and he was first amongst the balls in frame six. But he missed a red hanging over the black pocket and Ebdon's 52 proved decisive for 4-2 and then he stretched his advantage to 5-2 with a 69.

Murphy led 40-6 in the final frame of the day but Ebdon, who has played reasonably but not at his very best so far, moved up a gear with a 93 clearance to take a four-frame overnight lead.

Matthew Stevens and Ian McCulloch entered the first session of their semi-final last night as the new tournament favourite and outsider respectively.

Though Stevens' comeback win over seven-times champion Stephen Hendry on Wednesday was as much due to Hendry's lack of form than Stevens' brilliance, Stevens, the world No 6, is the highest-ranked player left in the event, with Ebdon (No 8) next. McCulloch, rated 31 places higher than Murphy - they stand at No 17 and No 48 respectively - and playing well, has also shown less dominance to win his matches so far.

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