Snooker: Crucible awaits Hendry

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The Independent Online
Stephen Hendry's attempt to win the Embassy World Championship for the sixth time in succession and the seventh in all will begin with a tricky opening match against Andy Hicks, the world No 18, who reached the semi-finals two years ago. Yesterday's draw for the 32-man televised phase of the championship, at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, from 19 April to 5 May, pits the top 16 in the world rankings against 16 qualifiers.

The youngest qualifier is a 19-year-old Scot, Graeme Dott, who is one of seven Crucible debutants. The oldest is Terry Griffiths, the 49-year- old Welshman who won the title at his first attempt 18 years ago and retired from tournament play at the end of last season to become the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association's full-time director of coaching, except for an attempt to reach the Crucible one last time.

The seedings envisage an all-Scottish final between Hendry, winner of five titles this season, and John Higgins, winner of last month's European Open, but the highlight of the championship could be a potential quarter- final between Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan's form has varied this season but his best could threaten Hendry's Crucible winning streak of 25 matches.

Nigel Bond began his defence of the British Open at Plymouth Pavilions with a routine 5-0 win over Tony Knowles but O'Sullivan, the 1994 champion, was beaten 5-4 by the world No 72, Gerard Greene. Aided by a break of 122, O'Sullivan led 3-1 and 4-3 but Greene prevailed with a frame-winning 61 break, his highest of the match, in the deciding ninth frame. It was Knowles' 10th defeat in 11 matches this season and the former world No 2 is facing exclusion from next season's world ranking events. Only the top 64 in the end-of-season rankings are sure to be included.

Steve Davis, winner of the Masters at Wembley in February, also reached the last 32 with a 5-1 win over Scotland's Marcus Campbell.

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