Hendry wins his sixth world title

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Ask Stephen Hendry what makes the long, tedious hours on the practice table worthwhile and he will say Steve Davis. He wants to surpass the previous great in snooker; he wants that more than prize money.

Which is why his 18-12 victory over Peter Ebdon in the Embassy World Championship last night carried an extra significance for the Scot. With it he equalled Davis and Ray Reardon's modern record of six titles. At 27, he is poised for numerical recognition as the greatest snooker player who has ever lived, something he has been accorded by repute hitherto.

The frightening thing this time is that Hendry took the pounds 200,000 prize while playing at a level far below his best. Jimmy White, who has lost to Hendry in four world finals, must have been watching at home wishing he had met Hendry when he was playing like this because his safety play was poor and his long potting dodgy.

Yet he still had enough to defeat Ebdon and the rest and his record at the Crucible makes Fort Knox look vulnerable, last night's victory being his 25th in succession here.

"It's fantastic to equal Steve," Hendry, who has won the last five finals, said. "I have always looked up to him and to match one of his hardest records makes me very proud."

Ebdon, simply, could not score heavily enough to trouble Hendry consistently. The 25-year-old from Wellingborough had chances but the adrenalin flowing through his veins frequently gave his cueing arm an extra nudge. In sharing the afternoon session 4-4, he was often out of position and living off scraps.

In the evening, the wearing effect of close matches against Jimmy White, Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan as a prelude to the final proved too debilitating. He lost his angles and the pockets seemed to shrink.

Starting at 10-6 down, the impression was that Ebdon had blown his chance on the first day when he could have taken advantage of Hendry's nerves. Instead he may have contributed to his downfall.

Several players have been irked by his extravagant gestures after close frames, but shouting "Come on then" and brandishing his cue at 7-6 was like a red rag to a bull for Hendry, who does not like Ebdon's antics.

In the world final, on Hendry's patch, it was an incitement for a violent act and Hendry's play took on a malevolence. Never mind that Ebdon says his screams are not aimed at anyone, just a release of tension, the champion felt the need to make a statement. He did with three frames without Ebdon scoring a point.

That was where the final was won. "I didn't handle the occasion particularly well yesterday," Ebdon said. "I'd had three tough matches and I felt it. Something was missing. For the first time in this tournament I wasn't enjoying myself."

Four frames ahead, Hendry would always be favourite particularly as Ebdon was nowhere near his best either. The opening frame proved a cameo of the whole second day: a scrappy mish-mash of errors until Hendry made the definitive statement with a break of 61.

Primed, he opened a 13-7 lead before Ebdon truly found his bearings and although he dragged himself back from the brink of annihilation with breaks of 38, 77 and 51, the impression was of damage limitation.

In the evening he managed that only after the match had been all but won. Hendry got a fillip with two fluked reds in the opening session and with luck and experience on his side, he eased away with three successive frames. Ebdon tried to slow him down by interminable thinking time and frequent requests for the cue ball to be cleaned but the champion would not be held.

There was just enough in the tank for Ebdon to win another two frames with breaks of 31, 39, 52 and 31 but he was delaying the inevitable. Hendry wrapped up the match with a break of 73. With that he made a half apologetic two-handed wave to the crowd, the mask of indifference as firmly in place as ever.

In a non-vintage championship personally, he had managed 11 centuries, a tally that has been bettered only once - by himself last year. Other players would love to have his off days.