Hendry has world in his pocket

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DESPITE unexpected resistance from Nigel Bond, the reigning world snooker champion Stephen Hendry was well on his way to a fifth title by the close of play at the Crucible yesterday.

After a difficult afternoon session, which had left him trailing 3-4, Hendry got his nose in front in the 11th frame. Thereafter, he produced a stunning sequence of high breaks which saw him take eight of the nine evening frames, leaving him to sleep soundly on an 11-5 lead, requiring another seven frames.

Bond, a 150-1 no-hoper before the tournament, despite his 11th place in the world rankings, was expected to crumble under a combination of first-time finalist's nerves and the kind of onslaught that Hendry has mounted to see off Ronnie O'Sullivan and Jimmy White.

The nerves were certainly there as Bond was invited to "come on down" in front of a packed Crucible auditorium, taking each step with exaggerated care as if fearing a prophetic fall. With the Embassy trophy on display, the 29-year-old from Darley Dale in Derbyshire ran his finger inside the collar of his dress shirt, looking like a best man who thought he might have forgotten the ring.

For the first frame it seemed as if Hendry would continue exactly where he had left off against White, building a confident break of 61, despite having to use pink and blue balls because the black was trapped under a side cushion. Bond, whose sad-bloodhound eyes compound his underdog image, immediately fluffed an easy red, and it was a full 13 minutes before he could register a point.

But the 20 minutes of that first frame at least consumed Bond's nerves, and he now set about undermining Hendry's steamroller. A break of 37 ended with Bond laying a snooker behind the brown ball. Hendry's attempt to get the cue-ball back to the pack of reds was woefully short and the mistake allowed Bond back in for a frame-winning break of 57.

The next two frames followed a similar pattern, with Bond's combination of short breaks, slow tempo and good safety play eventually forcing a foul from Hendry to set up the third frame, and an in-off with the cue ball to allow Bond in for a break of 77 to take the fourth.

Hendry took the fifth frame easily with a fluent break of 72 after the interval, but Bond forced mistakes from Hendry to make him concede the sixth.

But now, as Hendry became irritated with himself, the reigning champion produced the sort of form that has had veteran snooker watchers hailing him as the best there has ever been, scorching to a break of 101 to register his 10th century for this tournament, a new record.

The two players traded frames at the start of the evening session until Bond gifted the tenth to Hendry by missing an easy red and throwing away a 31-point lead. Hendry now began to punish every mistake which Bond made - a foul at the start of the 11th frame set up Hendry's winning break of 81.

Subsequent tallies of 70, 63, 124, 60 and 84 finally seemed to have broken the Englishman's resistance. Today's play may not last that long.

There have been other highlights in this astonishing fortnight for the 26-year-old Scot. Apart from the 147 break, Friday night's win over White was his 19th consecutive victory at the Crucible, and if he triumphs against Bond, he will become the first player to win four world championships in a row.