Hendry happy to find cruise control

Snooker
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The Independent Online
Stephen Hendry, attempting to add a fifth UK championship to his six world titles, overwhelmed Alan McManus 9-1 to reach today's final at Preston Guild Hall.

Hendry had played somewhere near his best and still lost to his fellow Scot in their Regal Scottish Masters quarter-final in September but yesterday he was dauntingly dominant. Breaks of 71, 83, 68 and 72 marked his progress. McManus secured his only success, the fourth game, with a run of 67 but missed a chance in the last of the afternoon following a Hendry error. Two routine frames in the evening and it was all over.

Although he did not make a century, Hendry was so pleased with every aspect of his game that he described his performance as "one of my best ever."

A third Scot, John Higgins, could nevertheless anticipate today's final with relish, not only because he may turn pounds 37,000 into pounds 70,000 or because victory would enable him to displace Hendry from the top of the provisional world rankings, but because, in his 9-3 semi-final defeat of Ireland's No 1 Ken Doherty on Friday, he found his form for the first time this season, emerging from six months of doubt.

Already winner of five world ranking titles, he led Nigel Bond 69-0 with only 67 on the table in the deciding frame of their British Open final last April and somehow lost 9-8; in his world quarter-final against Ronnie O'Sullivan two weeks later, he missed the pink which would have given him a 13-11 win and lost 13-12. He admitted to brooding on that pink every day since.

Although his game looked the same, he did not appear to be on the right emotional fuel. In the Asian Classic, the first of the new campaign's 10 ranking events, he lost 5-0 to the world No 116, Karl Burrows. In the Regal Scottish Masters, he lost to Peter Ebdon from two up with three to play in the semi-finals.

The Grand Prix at Bournemouth - as if to prove that every dog, or at least every middle-ranking snooker player, has his day - saw him lose 5-3 to an inspired Tony Jones in the last 16.

With Hendry and McManus, he formed a Scottish trio who, as favourites, were not so much joyful as relieved to win the World Cup. At Preston, Higgins beat Steve Newbury 9-8 and scraped home 9-8 on the final black against Tony Drago after trailing 6-0. Tenacity also came into play as he recovered from 1-4 to beat the Bournemouth Grand Prix winner, Mark Williams, 9-6 in the quarters.

Today, though, win or lose, he knows his game and mental attitude are again in good order for his defence of the German Open which starts on Monday week.

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