Hicks leaves Parrott perched in his chair

Greg Wood, at the Wembley Conference Centre, watches a wild card reach the Benson and Hedges Masters semi-finals
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The Independent Online
Regulars on the snooker circuit complain that Andy Hicks is inconsistent, but when it comes to the major tournaments the description is little short of slander. In the last 11 months, he has reached the last four of the World and UK Championships, and now the Benson and Hedges Masters at Wembley, beating John Parrott yesterday by six frames to three.

Hicks, rated 17 in the world, is only playing at Wembley thanks to a wild-card entry, but will now face Ronnie O'Sullivan for a place in Sunday's final. His confidence appears to grow with every match, and having set a new record with three century breaks in consecutive frames in his first- round match, he set off in similar vein yesterday with a run of 118 in the first frame. In frame four, meanwhile, he stopped at 91 only because he ran out of balls to pot.

Parrott had won the other two, however, and took the fifth to lead 3- 2. The sixth was the turning point, as Parrott set off on a run of poor fortune. Ahead 59-36, he needed just yellow and green to clinch the frame but the cue ball rolled to within an inch of the first colour and left him with no chance of a pot. Hicks got back in to level at 3-3, and smoothly reeled off the next three as well with a mix of confident potting, fluent break-building and more misfortune for his opponent.

Parrott is in the habit of tugging at his bottom lip when things are not going well, and it was taking some serious punishment by the close of the ninth frame. Trailing 43-5, he was presented with a clear chance and moved swiftly to 43, only to send the white into the middle pocket off the penultimate red after a sloppy positional shot.

Yet still he got another chance, needing brown, blue and pink to pull back to 4-5. The first two disappeared cosily enough, but he failed to get into position for the pink. Hicks had been let off once too often, and despite some nervous exchanges on the final black, he finally got his chance and sealed his victory. "I like playing out there under those sort of conditions," he said afterwards. "He played a bad shot on that final blue. The last thing to do on a shot like that is to leave it short. He never gave himself a chance."

Hicks, however, has every chance. His ability to pot balls has never been in doubt, but a growing maturity in his tactical game has taken him to No 14 in the provisional world rankings. He has yet to win a serious semi-final in four attempts, but his time may at last be approaching.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, the defending champion, is famous for the fluid ease with which he moves around the table. Not so last night however, when he was forced to limp from shot to shot after tripping over a pot plant earlier in the day. His play was a little limp too, and he was tied 2- 2 with Darren Morgan at the mid-session interval and then 3-2 down shortly afterwards. Thanks to some solid if unspectacular play, however, he took four of the next five frames to reach tomorrow's semi- finals.

BENSON AND HEDGES MASTERS (Wembley Conference Centre) Second round: S Hendry (Sco) bt J Higgins (Sco) 6-4. Quarter-finals: A Hicks (Eng) bt J Parrott (Eng) 6-3; R O'Sullivan (Eng) bt D Morgan (Wal) 6-4.

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