Snooker: Makeover that takes Davis back 18 years

Small adjustment makes huge difference to master of 80s
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The Independent Online

This mid-winter is proving an Indian summer for Steve Davis, who today attempts to win his seventh UK title some 18 years after his sixth. His rival in the final, Ding Jun Hui, is 18.

For a decade, his best days seemed definitively behind him, even though his innate class kept him in that tier of players just below the circuit's regular title winners who could still challenge now and then. His third Masters triumph in 1997 has for years seemed likely to stand as his last on a major stage. Cheerfully describing himself as a part-timer, he appeared resigned to it himself.

But he remained intellectually fascinated by all aspects of the game, notably the mechanics of cue action, and a marginal adjustment to his sighting and alignment seems to have changed everything.

At the age of 48, unknown to the bookmakers who offered him at the derisory opening odds of 150-1 here, the Davis of the 1980s was reborn, whether in reeling off three centuries and a series of other frame-winning breaks in beating defending champion Stephen Maguire 9-8, or in his unsurpassed credentials as a tactician and master of the fragmented frame in overcoming Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry.

Not having beaten him in a significant match for 12 years, his semi-final victory over Hendry tasted especially sweet. At 8-2 it even seemed likely to be a trouncing but Hendry, finding form "at death's door'', as he put it, reduced this to 8-6.

With Hendry on 57-0 in the next frame and no apparent impediment to closing to one behind, he changed his mind halfway through his attempt at the most basic of blacks from its spot with disastrous results. With majestic calm, Davis cleared with 66 for frame and match, proving that his nerve in as good shape a his game.

One of the most testing situations is when apparently certain victory by a wide margin gradually turns into a possible defeat. Davis was unable to cope with this in losing his epic 1985 World Championship final to Dennis Taylor on the final black after leading 8-0, and the 1983 UK final to Alex Higgins after leading 7-0. With all the experience he is ever likely to need, he has learnt to stay in the moment, as he did not only against Hendry but when Doherty, 8-4 down in the quarter-final here, recovered to within a difficult black of 8-8. Davis felt "able to play the balls without thinking about what had happened or what was going to happen'', and in this cocoon he doubled the black for victory.

From his start-of-season position of 15th, Davis will stand, win or lose today, third in the provisional rankings behind the unfathomably unpredictable Ronnie O'Sullivan and Hendry, who without winning a title for 13 months has been consistent enough to go top.

There are 800 places to play in Beijing, 370 in Shanghai. China is producing promising young players on an almost industrial scale. Standard-bearer Ding emphasised his quality of potting and break-building in recording three centuries when he beat Joe Perry 9-4 yesterday to become the first finalist from outside Britain in 28 years.

With a television audience of 100 million willing him on, Ding beat Hendry 9-5 to win the China Open last April although, as a wild card, he received neither ranking points nor prize money.

His 100 break gave him a 2-1 lead over Perry and, at 3-2, his 77 clearance gave him the sixth frame from 55 behind. Pouncing on the world No 14's bungled break off shot, Ding fluently ran off 129 to lead 5-2, and from 5-4 he put together a four-frame winning sequence to clinch victory with his closing effort of 131.