Snooker: Carter lines up a payday

ALLISTER CARTER - Ali, as he likes to be known - is not yet the greatest, but in the last month he has certainly been having a great run.

His 6-3 win over Stephen O'Connor - a Dubliner who has not fulfilled the promise implicit in winning the World Amateur title nine years ago - here on the first day of the Liverpool Victoria UK Championship was his 15th in 16 matches.

"It was a bit scrappy. Stephen kept me on the cushion a lot," said Carter, whose highest break was 73 in the eighth frame. "I didn't mind playing in the morning because at least I could watch the football."

This 20-year-old from Tiptree stood 142nd in the rankings at the start of the season but in reaching last month's semi-finals of the Grand Prix at Preston he eliminated Stephen Hendry and Asia's best player, Marco Fu. Defeat at the hands of the world number one, John Higgins, left him with take-home pay of pounds 16,500.

Last week, he earned a place in February's Benson and Hedges Masters at Wembley by taking the pounds 5,000 first prize in a satellite event and he is sure of at least another pounds 10,000 from the moment he walks out to play Steve Davis. These are not irrelevant sums to a player yet to establish himself.

For the UK's pounds 178,000 first prize, though, consider first the usual suspects, Higgins, Hendry, Mark Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan, snooker's fab four. On any given day, though, particularly in the best of nine, they can be vulnerable if their concentration is not focused or if one of the circuit's supporting acts has an inspired day.

This was Hendry's problem when he lost to Carter at Preston. Having cut short his practice because he felt he could not hit the ball any better, he missed, once he was in the arena, several pots at which a decent local- league player would be disappointed to fail.

In Bournemouth a year ago, Hendry was in such psychological disarray that he lost 9-0 to Marcus Campbell. His cueing had also gone slightly out of kilter and he had to summon the will to restore himself technically. This process culminated in winning his seventh World title at Sheffield last spring, surpassing the six that Davis won in the Eighties.

This fortnight he can equal Davis's six UKs and has already won six Masters to Davis's three. He will be very highly motivated to regain the edge of form which gave him the season's first two prizes in the Champions Cup and British Open.