Snooker: O'Sullivan gets back into focus

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The Independent Online

Ronnie O'Sullivan's summer, on his own admission, of four-day benders and an apparent conversion to Islam which he insists was based on his misunderstanding of a ceremony in a London mosque, has given way to a renewed concentration on his game.

Well below his sublime best but highly focused, O'Sullivan reached today's final of the British Open here, his first since winning the European Open and Irish Masters back to back last March, with a 6-2 win over the world No 5, Stephen Lee. Prepared to bide his time in some largely tactical frames, he also produced knock-out punches of 98 to lead 3-1 and 80 for 5-2. "I'm proud of how I've battled," O'Sullivan said.

His opponent for the £52,000 first prize today will be Stephen Hendry, who hopes to secure his 62nd title from his 98th professional final. After dropping the opening frame to Matthew Stevens, Hendry set up his 6-3 victory by taking the next four, a spell in which he made breaks of 63, 93 and 80.

Stevens reduced his arrears to 4-3 but Hendry reasserted himself with a frame-winning 65 and snatched the ninth on the black with a 61 clearance after the Welshman's run of 49 had been terminated by an untimely "kick".

"I never thought I was going to lose. It's a funny feeling you get sometimes,'' said Hendry, whose relationship with O'Sullivan has been strained since his unwarranted attack on his integrity before their 2002 world semi-final at the Crucible. "Everyone knows we're not the best of mates,'' said Hendry. "Every time we play there's an edge, you can't deny it.''

Regardless of yesterday's result, though, it has been heartening to witness the resurgence of Stevens, who has been in the doldrums since his father's unexpected death two-and-a-half years ago. "When I lost my dad, I did go off the rails for a while,'' he said. "I was going out and getting drunk a lot and basically didn't care if I won or not. I loved him so much and it was very hard to get through it."

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