Hall punishes pretenders

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The Independent Online

Darren Hall brushed aside two promising young England players as he coasted towards his eighth singles title in the English National Championships at Norwich Sport Village yesterday.

Hall, the world No 17 from Essex, needed just 32 minutes to demolish the Hitchin schoolboy Tom Gooden 15-2, 15-3 and the England Under-18 No 1, Anthony Clark, 15-1, 15-1 in reaching the last eight.

The former European champion showed no mercy against his novice opponents. "I wanted to win in a hurry," Hall said. "If you ease up, it can lead to bad habits."

Hall hardly broke sweat in either match and Clark summed up the huge gulf in class and experience when he said: "Darren made me look a complete idiot."

Nerves affected 17-year-old Gooden as he sampled his first taste of the Nationals against a man who has appeared in 10 successive finals and won on a record seven occasions.

"This was a huge step up for me," said Gooden, who took time off from A-level studies for his first-round defeat. "I'm not used to tournaments with electric scoreboards, line-judges, television lighting and spectators."

Gooden is due to join Clark in England's Under-18 team next month but both teenagers learned how much improvement will be needed for eventual promotion to the senior squad.

Hall has already set his sights on European and Olympic medals after the nationals. He is scheduled to meet his Olympic colleague Peter Knowles in the final tomorrow.

Knowles adopted a different approach to Hall. He had been drained by a 90-minute semi-final victory over China's Sun Jun in the Polish Open 48 hours earlier and took it easy in his wins against Kevin Holland and Paul Hinder but still progressed to the last eight.