Snooker: O'Sullivan tips Maguire

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The Independent Online

Stephen Maguire, who completed his 5-0 quarter-final win over Anthony Hamilton on Friday with a hat-trick of centuries, began with two more, 101 and 134 and went on to beat the world champion, Ronnie O'Sullivan, 6-1 to reach today's final of the British Open at Brighton.

"That was some of the best snooker I've ever had played against me," said O'Sullivan. "If he keeps playing like that, snooker's got something special."

The 23-year-old Scot's capture of the European Open title in Malta last March past almost unnoticed because it was not shown on British television, but even before last night's semi-final O'Sullivan described him as "of the young ones, definitely the best".

Maguire's opening burst put O'Sullivan under a degree of pressure he had not experienced for some time and O'Sullivan missed a routine yellow when he was set to clear up to win the third frame. He also pulled across a green with the rest when he had a chance to tie the fifth after obtaining the snooker he needed.

O'Sullivan took the fourth frame with runs of 45 and 51, but Maguire completed what he correctly considered as "by far'' the most striking victory of his career with two breaks of 71.

Earlier John Higgins, anxiously awaiting news of the imminent birth of his second child, had overcome Shaun Murphy, at 22 one of England's best young prospects, 6-0 to reach the final.

Higgins is so determined to be present at the birth that he intended to dash straight back to Scotland if his wife went into labour. "There will be plenty more tournaments for me, but not plenty more births," he said.

In this eventuality, though, he would risk disciplinary action and cause immense disappointment both to ticket- holders and to Eurosport, the host broadcasters.

Having eliminated Stephen Hendry 5-2 in the quarter-finals, Higgins arrived yesterday at 3-0 with a break of 114 and a points aggregate thus far of 264-10. Murphy opened the fourth with a run of 50 only to miss a close-range red.

Settling to what looked a straightforward clearance, Higgins needed a fluke yellow on 43 to keep going but missed pink for game on 57 and again at his next visit, only to fluke a snooker as he stumbled over the line to 4-0.

"The fourth was a very big frame. I was very lucky," admitted Higgins, who then completed the whitewash in only 73 minutes with authoritative runs of 89 and 144.

His wife has told him that she does not expect to deliver until tomorrow, but Higgins may also be hoping that the birth does not fall on Wednesday, when he is due to start his challenge for the UK title in York.