Hicks adds Ebdon to list of conquests

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The Independent Online
The last person of note to emerge from Tavistock was Sir Francis Drake, who knew a thing or two about ball games. The next is Andy Hicks, a sinker of reputations at the Embassy World Championship.

The 21-year-old left-hander from Devon added Peter Ebdon to his growing portfolio of seeded victims yesterday to become the first player for 16 years to reach the semi-finals on his debut at The Crucible. Then Terry Griffiths won the title; Hicks, who now meets Nigel Bond, can wait with growing hopes.

The problem facing Hicks was not outpacing his opponent; that had been done the previous day when he had turned a 3-0 deficit into an 11-5 lead, but breasting the tape. Players have seen the winning post before and not reached it, and there was a hint of nervousness about the world No 33 as Ebdon took the first two frames of the day.

A difficult long red to the bottom pocket in the 19th frame steadied him, however, and once he was within a frame of a famous win, it was merely a matter of time. A break of 55 sealed it for a 13-8 success to complement his earlier triumphs in Sheffield against Steve Davis and Willie Thorne.

"I might not have shown it, but there were butterflies," Hicks said. Asked whether he was surprised to be in the semi-finals, his reply suggested not in the slightest. "I knew I was playing well in practice."

Ebdon was fulsome in his praise. "I was outplayed," he said. "If he continues in that vein, there's no reason why he can't win the championship."

While Hicks may not be a name that was expected to be in the last four, an ominously familiar one also reached the semi-finals, arriving with the sort of momentum that brooked no argument. Stephen Hendry made sure the talking point was the difference in meaning between the words "unstoppable" and "irresistible".

The Crucible has an effect on Hendry roughly akin to that of polish on tarnished metal, and yesterday it was difficult to imagine him cleaning up any better. At 9-7 overnight, his match with Ronnie O'Sullivan was tilted in his favour, but not so much that he could be entirely confident. Or not until he put cue to ball.

O'Sullivan was not beaten yesterday he was annihilated, and that when he was playing reasonably well. All it required was one mistake, and the world champion struck with unerring force.

"I don't think I missed a ball," Hendry said afterwards and then thinking about it, he added: "Oh, there was a yellow to the centre pocket in the first frame." We were talking of that degree of perfection.

O'Sullivan had a piece of bad luck when a red dropped into a pocket after he potted a blue and that was it, Hendry accelerated away with the velocity of Concorde. Breaks of 88, 84, 133 - the highest of the tournament - and a staccato of short bursts in the final frame and he was through to his sixth semi-final in seven years.

There he will meet the man he has beaten in the last three finals, Jimmy White, who weathered a comeback by John Parrott last night before squeezing through 13-11. It was not classic White, who did not make a break of more than 54 all day, but it was enough. It is highly unlikely, however, to be sufficient against Hendry.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield): Quarter-finals: S Hendry (Sco) bt R O'Sullivan (Eng) 13-8; A Hicks (Eng) bt P Ebdon (Eng) 13-8; N Bond (Eng) bt G Wilkinson (Eng) 13-7; J White (Eng) bt J Parrott (Eng) 13-11.

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