Snooker: Bond shaken and stirred

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The Independent Online
Ronnie O'sullivan, odds-on favourite to win the Benson and Hedges Masters for the second time in three years after disposing of Stephen Hendry, the six times world and Masters champion, 6-4 in the quarter finals last Thursday, produced one of his less impressive performances but emerged a 6-5 semi-final winner over the world No 5, Nigel Bond, at Wembley Conference Centre.

He can expect a searching examination of his tactical game in today's final from Steve Davis, at 39 the doyen of snooker's elite top 16. The six-times world and UK - but only twice Masters - champion came to Wembley having reached only one quarter-final all season but last night followed two notable 6-4 wins over Alan McManus and Peter Ebdon by outmanoeuvring the Republic of Ireland's top player, Ken Doherty, 6-1.

"That's the best I've played in the Nineties," Davis said. "I'm still hungry for success. I think I'm one of a pack of very good players."

O'Sullivan's sentiments were rather different; he recognised his shortcomings."I'm relieved," the 21-year-old said. "Nigel played better than me but I won frames I should have lost. Sometimes you play well and get beat. Maybe this was fate."

Not so long ago, such circumstances might have led to self-inflicted defeat, but the maturity O'Sullivan has acquired this season has enabled him to recognise that there are matches which must be won without playing at one's best.

His 67 from 32 behind to take the opening frame promised more than he could consistently deliver. Bond's 109 accounted for the second and his 70-0 lead signalled his imminent 2-1 advantage. This should have been 3-1 but for Bond missing the third last red which was effectively frame ball in the fourth. "I must have taken my eye off it," Bond said. "It let him off the hook."

Even so, after O'Sullivan had eventually snatched the frame on the black with a 35 clearance to level at 2-2, Bond still managed to gain parity at 3-3. O'Sullivan took the seventh with 38 but totalled only eight points in the next two frames as Bond went one up with two left to play.

O'Sullivan came to life in timely fashion with 64 to level at 5-5 and then achieved the dubious distinction of winning the desperately fragmentary 39-minute decider with the aid of the highest break of only eight.

Even when he led by 30 with only 27 on the table, there were anxious moments to come. Bond, who from 0-69 with only 67 on the table in the decider had beaten John Higgins to win last April's British Open, extracted the necessary penalty points from a snooker but after some tense exchanges, O'Sullivan clipped the brown to a corner pocket to leave Bond struggling.

"It's hard to describe how disappointed I am," said Bond, who had not won a match in four previous visits to Wembley. He may be consoled by his pounds 34,000 cheque, while O'Sullivan, sure of pounds 70,000, will today dispute the pounds 135,000 first prize.