Snooker: Bond sets his sights

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The Independent Online
Nigel Bond's routine 5-0 win over Tony Knowles carried his defence of the British Open into the last 32 at Plymouth Pavilions. It is the ninth world ranking event of the season and a last form guide to the 10th, last and incomparably most significant, the Embassy World Championship, which occupies the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, on April 19 - 5 May.

Bond habitually plays his best in late season. His last four years at the Crucible have yielded two quarter-finals, a semi and a final and it has taken Stephen Hendry to beat him each time.

At Plymouth last year, close to the Hoe from which Sir Francis Drake finished his game of bowls before engaging the Spanish Armada, Bond too appeared confronted by superior forces. But from 69 behind with only 67 on the table he achieved an unlikely 9-8 victory in the final over the world number two, John Higgins, on the final black. That helped him to a world ranking of fifth, which he retains this season for seeding.

His present campaign has been "quiet and steady" for the most part, until he beat Hendry to reach the Thailand Open final earlier this month. "Barring any major disaster I should be in the top eight and that gets you in all the invitation tournaments," Bond said, emphasising the importance of keeping matches tight.

But when early defeat follows early defeat - Knowles has lost 10 of his 11 contests this season - the length of time between matches increases and no amount of practice can compensate. The last blue of the third frame emphasised his problems. It was not all that difficult but represented the difference between getting a foothold in the match at 1-2 or seeing it disappear at 0-3.

Knowles has lost the habit of potting key balls and, missing this one, it was only 25 minutes before he was contemplating a return to Plymouth for the WPBSA's qualifying summer school. The last eight from each of the four school events join the top-ranked 64 in next season's world ranking events.