Williams shifts into warp overdrive

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The Independent Online

Given that Mark Williams is currently snooker's best player, his progress at the Embassy World Championship has been made with relatively little fuss. The demise of Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan saw to that at the start and Jimmy White has monopolised things since, but he is progressing - and quickly.

So much so that last night he was close to unstoppable and by the time the blur of activity had halted he was 12-4 ahead and within a frame of reaching the semi-finals. His opponent, Fergal O'Brien, had the look of a man who was bemused as to what he could do.

Leading 5-3 from yesterday's morning session, Williams came out of the blocks like Ronnie O'Sullivan on speed, compiling breaks of 101, 112, 32, 44, 44 and 52 to win five quick frames in succession. O'Brien stemmed the tidal wave by winning the 14th frame on a respotted black, but it was like blowing against the wind, and Williams finished the night as he started it with visits to the table worth 42 and 71.

The potting was so exuberant, the play so uninhibited, it could have been "the Whirlwind" at his best, but Jimmy White was a long way short of that. The audience was willing him forward, but he could not fully respond and at the end of the day he was 5-3 down to Matthew Stevens. He will have the support today, the question is, does he still have the stamina and the concentration?

Yesterday's play suggested probably not. White has not won a ranking tournament for eight years nor an event of any kind for seven, which must affect his confidence, no matter how polished his brio might seem.

Yesterday the reception for the six-times runner-up was enough to send shivers up the spine of a seasoned player, never mind the 22-year-old Stevens, who prefers to edge away from the spotlight. "I'll have to do my shouting on the table," he said. "It's all I can do."

The shy persona hides steel, however, and rather than be cowed, Stevens trapped his opponent in a web of snookers, taking the first frame 75-32. White responded with breaks of 84 and 69 for a lead of 2-1 but Stevens won four of the next five, compiling breaks of 90, 109, 60 and 63 on the way. The scoring said it all: White has yet to get a century in this tournament.

If the new appeared to be eclipsing the old on that table, John Higgins had already underlined the march of youth by defeating Steve Davis 13-11 late on Monday night. Yesterday he was meeting a man nearer his own age, and finding it an all together easier prospect.

Hamilton, who edged past the 1997 champion, Ken Doherty, in the last round, is in alien territory in the quarterfinals as he has never been past the second round here before. Yesterday there were occasions when he looked like it, too, but he tenaciously clung on to the No 2 seed and by the end he trailed only 5-3.

His best moment came in the final frame when he needed a snooker, claimed it when Higgins went in-off attempting a safety shot on a red and then calmly cleared the table to take the frame 62-61. He will need similar nerve today.

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