Hard mission for Bond as Hendry's nerve holds

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The Independent Online
Nothing, not even success it seems, can spoil Stephen Hendry. The Crucible waited yesterday to see if the world champion would suffer an adverse effect after his 147 maximum on Thursday. There was more chance of the table collapsing.

Instead of a let-down Hendry got stronger, beating Jimmy White 16-12 in the semi-finals of the Embassy World Snooker Championships last night. Now just Nigel Bond stands between the 26-year-old and his fifth title (his fourth in succession) and from the evidence so far the task would be beyond James Bond.

After Hendry completed his first televised maximum, he was so disorientated White was able to close an 8-4 deficit to 8-7. Another day, however, and even the £147,000 prize he had won could not divert the world champion. At first he seemed fallible when he missed two yellows but that was just a tease and soon he was his remorseless self. The first four frames were won; White was struggling.

You would have had an inkling Hendry would prevail at 13-9 down but when the Scot arrived at the final session with that advantage the chances of a White win were remote. He tried, he always does, but never got within two frames of the player who has beaten him in the last three finals. Six times a runner-up here, the tag "the best player never to win the title" fits him better than ever.

"The whole match was difficult," Hendry said. "I thought Jimmy played superbly. He never looked like missing when he got in but I managed to keep my nose in front at the end of every session. When I feel danger I seem to have a bit in reserve."

Bond, meanwhile, reached his first world final but if the outcome looked a formality at the start of yesterday it proved to be far from it. By the time the world No 11 finally defeated Andy Hicks he was a relieved man.

Ahead 15-7 overnight and needing only a frame to reach his first world final, Bond had to sit twitching in his chair for nearly two hours before he located his target as Hicks, the surprise package of the tournament, reeled him in slowly and, as time went by, painfully.

Four frames went to the 21-year-old Devonian who, free from expectation, was also bereft of nerves, before Bond, looking increasingly edgy, finally put a cap on what would have been a remarkable comeback. The balance of the last frame tilted from one side of the arena to the other until Bond ended his own agony with a break of 54.

It completed a tremendous tournament for Bond, who, despite his ranking, has largely escaped the notice of the public. His peers may respect the thin, lugubrious looking man from Darley Dale, Derbyshire, but the masses ignore him, to an extent that he was 100/1 to win the event at its start two weeks ago.

Bond, 29, has reached only one ranking final before, the 1990 Rothmans Grand Prix, and the rest of his career has been one of near misses, not so much the bridesmaid as an usher-in of the main participants. "It's been a long time since 1990 and it's been very frustrating," he agreed. "I've made a lot of semi-finals but not been able to progress further. I've got a second chance now." Against Hendry, you do not get second chances.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Sheffield) Semi-finals: N Bond (Eng) bt A Hicks (Eng) 16-11; S Hendry (Sco) bt J White (Eng) 16-12.