Hendry on high

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STEPHEN HENDRY stood on the verge of his sixth appearance in the final of the Royal Liver Assurance UK Championship, and a showdown today with Peter Ebdon, after taking a 7-1 lead over John Higgins at Preston yesterday.

Higgins had predicted it would be a cracking game, but could do little to prevent Hendry's seemingly inexorable progress towards repeating last month's victory at the Skoda Grand Prix final in Sunderland.

Hendry, who last weekend compiled a maximum 147 break against Gary Wilkinson, soon found his range. A break of 80 in the opening frame was a taste of things to come and it was not long before he was notching a break of 104 to claim a 2-0 advantage.

Higgins snatched frame three after Hendry missed a difficult final pink but from that moment it was one-way traffic as the 26-year-old, five-times world champion piled up the points. He made 70 to win frame four after Higgins unluckily went in off, and then drilled in a long green to clear up with 25 to move 4-1 clear.

Runs of 55, 45 and 73 increased his advantage to 6-1 and there was a final flourish when he cleared with 130 to finish the session 7-1 up. Higgins, the world No 11, managed only 14 points in the final three frames as Hendry increased his century tally at the tournament to nine.

Ebdon defeated the Devonian Andy Hicks 9-1 on Friday to claim his first UK final appearance , after suffering a last-gasp defeat by Hendry in the semi- final 12 months ago. The world No 10, reaching his first ranking final since losing to Alan McManus in Dubai last October, said: "I don't mind who I play. I know I haven't hit peak form just yet."