Hendry hits overdrive to retain title

SNOOKER

In retrospect, the turning point in the Embassy World Championship came when Stephen Hendry turned up with a clean bill of health. Having prevailed last year with a broken arm, he was hardly likely to surrender his title with all his limbs intact.

He duly clinched his fifth World Championship and his fourth in a row last night when he defeated Nigel Bond 18-9 at The Crucible. The only hope of an upset was if Hendry did not like the colour of the Ferrari promised to him by his sponsors if he won the title.

"It means everything to me to be world champion and world No 1," he said. "I wasn't playing well coming into the championships but every time I come here I'm charged up. I know there are very few players who can keep up with me over long matches."

Bond could only concur. "I missed two or three balls and I was punished every time," he said. "One mistake and he destroys you. At the moment he is head and shoulders above the rest, particularly at The Crucible."

Hendry and Bond belong to the same management group and, if there was a sentimental bone in the former's body, you might have expected him to ease up on someone he regards as a friend. Rest assured not even the X- ray that found the hairline fracture in his left arm 12 months ago could locate one.

"It's my job to win. I can't feel any sympathy when I'm on the table," Hendry said when he defeated Jimmy White and there was not an iota to suggest he had gone soft yesterday. Leading 11-5 overnight, he came out like a pumped-up heavyweight straining to get an early-round knockout. Equally, Bond fitted the image of the horizontal fighter.

The opening frame of the day was representative of the match as a whole. Bond, the 11th seed and playing in his first world final, had the first opportunity but after compiling a break of eight he missed. It was like turning off a light. You rarely get another chance against Hendry and the champion cleaned up with a 75.

He followed that with a clearance of 115 and by the time he went 14-5 ahead with a burst of short breaks there was a real danger that the final would not reach the last session just as it did in 1993 when Hendry beat White 18-5.

At that point the statistics were becoming intimidating to the point of tedium. Hendry had won 10 frames in succession, equalling his own World Championship record, had set a new mark of 11 centuries in the tournament (which he later extended to 12) and he was heading for his 20th successive victory in the event, again a record.

Just as the organisers were frantically looking for John Virgo and Dennis Taylor and Co to provide an evening of trick shots to a match-deprived evening audience, however, Bond suddenly staged a last act of defiance.

Bond, his doleful expression unaltered by Hendry's display of strength, has shown durability throughout the tournament and with the match almost certainly gone, he had respect to aim for.

In the second frame of the day his cueing had been so out of kilter he missed an attempt at a red into the bottom pocket by nine inches, a monumental margin of error in this environment, but as the tension drained away from his body with his hopes the fluidity returned to his cueing arm.

He collected the next three frames with breaks of 52, 59 and 49 and at 14-8 was living with the world champion for the first time in the match since his surprise 5-4 lead. It was to prove a short-lived thing.

Two frames were rattled off by Hendry to bring the afternoon session to an end and needing just another couple more in the evening, he pocketed them with breaks of 92 and 103. He probably was under greater pressure on the practice table.

"The money is great but it has never been a motivation for me," he said after completing his first televised maximum break. It comes in handy, though. In this championship alone he has become £353,000 richer by dint of the £16,000 highest break reward, £147,000 for his 147 and the £190,000 first prize.

Now just the Ferrari needs to live up to the world champion's exacting standards. Last year, Team Sweater Shop gave Hendry a Bentley Continental which he found too ostentatious to drive. That is now in a Scottish motor museum.

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