O'Sullivan on song

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The Independent Online
WITH the eyes of the sporting world firmly fixed on Aintree and Augusta, the snooker caravan cannot have expected to get more than a passing glance. But Friday sees the start of the annual epic, the Embassy World Championships at Sheffield, so whatever the merits of the Castella Classic British Open as a spectacle, the players relish the chance to get in some last-minute matchplay before the big one.

But as the semi-finals began yesterday afternoon, the £60,000 first prize would have started to loom large in the consciousness of the four remaining players. Certainly the crowd would have had few complaints about the first best-of-11-frames semi-final, between reigning champion Ronnie O'Sullivan and the man he beat in last year's final, James Wattana, now No 3 in the world rankings.

The two young hustlers produced an enthralling, nerve-jangling contest as O'Sullivan took a 4-0 lead by the interval, only to see Wattana fight back to 4-3 and then to 5-4 before O'Sullivan edged into the final, where he will meet John Higgins, who beat John Parrott 6-2 in their semi.

O'Sullivan seized the early advantage, coming from 52-0 down to take the first frame with a 63 break after Wattana had missed a simple red to a corner pocket. Similar mistakes resulted in a concession of the second frame.

The pattern continued in the third as Wattana's early lead was overhauled by O'Sullivan's break of 51. But the Englishman saved the best for the fourth, racking up an impressive break of 102 to take a 4-0 lead into the interval.

O'Sullivan looked unstoppable. He resumed with a break of 59, but by missing the black off its spot he gave Wattana a chance for the first time, and the Thai responded magnificently with a 66-point clearance. O'Sullivan's nerves began to show as Wattana claimed the sixth frame 69- 35, and the seventh with a 71 break

But a bad miss in the next allowed O'Sullivan to reclaim the advantage with a rapid break of 97. Still Wattana would not let go as he took the ninth by 88-26. The fateful 10th was a tense, safety-conscious affair before Wattana was eventually forced to concede.

In the other match, Higgins overcame a stomach upset to beat Parrott, saying afterwards: "I'm just relieved to get the match out of the way because I didn't feel well at all." He raced away to a 5-0 lead, and although Parrott dug in and clawed back two frames, he was unable to stop his Scots opponent in the eighth.

Whatever happens here, the news of Jimmy White's preventive operation for cancer has put the game in a sober mood. He will take an huge reservoir of goodwill to The Crucible, provided he can get past the doctors tomorrow. Never has the term "lucky break" been more necessary.