Swail prepares to take chance of his lifetime

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The Independent Online

It took some contorted linguistics and a knowledge of Clint Eastwood's films toprovide Joe Swail with his nickname, but someone managedit and consequently the 30-year-old Northern Irishman glories in "the Outlaw". But if that was a contorted leap of imagination, it pales in comparison to Swail reaching the semi-finals of the Embassy World Championship.

Bear in mind that Swail passed his previous highest prize when he reached the second round at the Crucible, then you can imagine how he is feeling about being within two matches of snooker's pinnacle. "I can't believe this is happening," he said. "Honest to God." The £70,000 he is guaranteed to win? "It'll pay off my house."

"I'm trying not to let it all stop here because a chance like this only happens once in a lifetime. It's all right for the top four players; they're going to get lots of chances but guys like myself, down the rankings, this is a one-off. I'm playing my best match snooker for ages. I was low on confidence before I came here and was delighted just to win my first match against Paul Hunter. I don't want it to stop here. I'd love to get to the final."

If Swail plays like he did against Dominic Dale, he will have a chance. The main break for the last four had been done on Tuesday night but when he lost the first frame 63-39 yesterday to have his lead cut to 10-7 he might have succumbed to nerves. Instead, he compiled breaks of 82, 50, 47 and 79 to win 13-9.

The result means Swail returns to snooker's top 16, a place he last occupied in the mid-1990s, at the expense of the six-times world champion Steve Davis, who drops out of the élite for the first time in two decades.

That was due in part to John Higgins, who defeated Davis 13-11 in the second round. That was a titanic struggle between the past and the present; yesterday's meeting with a contemporary, Anthony Hamilton, was viciously one-sided.

Hamilton, the 10th seed, is a good player, although he might as well have been using a piece of celery rather than a cue for all the good it was doing him. He was not at his best, but even if he had been it would have hardly mattered because Higgins was devastating. At one point the 1998 champion amassed 485 points without reply.

That is a record for the Crucible and only two short of Stephen Hendry's world mark. That statistic was just one of many as Higgins took eight frames in succession, recording three successive centuries on the way, while ending the match a session early.

"I would have stayed until midnight to get the eight frames necessary but I'm delighted to have finished off so quickly," Higgins said. "After I went 8-3 up I didn't miss a ball. I can't play any better than that, but I'll have to keep up that standard if I'm to win the title."

Which sets up today's semi-final nicely because, if Mark Williams plays better snooker than that he displayed against Fergal O'Brien, then he will spend the time fearing he is going to be woken up. Devastating on Monday night, he needed only one frame yesterday and he managed that within half an hour.

O'Brien won the first frame of the day with a break of 43 but he was merely delaying the inevitable and in the next he was first trapped into three fouls by safety, then clobbered over the head with an 82.

"If he had been playing anyone else, it would have been good to watch," the Irish 11th seed moaned about the Tuesday night massacre. "When you miss, you know you are going to get punished."

O'Brien said he began yesterday's session wishing for a miracle. "It went through my mind I'd go for the max," he said. "If I had won four frames and got to 12-8, I might have had a chance but the top players are very good with a lead."

Jimmy White had hoped to keep on going into his seventh final but he crashed into the barrier that is Matthew Stevens. Trailing 5-3 overnight, the damage was done yesterday morning when the "Whirlwind" lost six of the eight frames, despite taking the first 89-17.

This meant the six-times runner-up was losing 11-5 going into the final session and although he had breaks of 45 and 48 to cut that deficit to 11-6 and 12-7 he was unable to withstand the 22-year-old Welshman's consistent potting any longer. "Against a player like Matthew, who gets the long pots," White said, "if you don't dig deep, he's going to bash you up."

Like Davis, White is also out of the top 16 and he will have to qualify if he is appear at the Crucible next year.

SEMI-FINAL LINE-UP

John Higgins v Mark Williams Matthew Stevens v Joe Swail

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