Snooker: Defiant Doherty

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The Independent Online
KEN DOHERTY spent a pleasant afternoon at the Monet Exhibition, demonstrated the art of snooker in disposing of an off-colour Ronnie O'Sullivan 6-2 in the quarterfinals, and yesterday reached the final of the Benson and Hedges Masters at Wembley Conference Centre for the first time with a turgid 6-3 win over Alan McManus which took three hours and 36 minutes.

The difference in prize money between pounds 40,000 for the loser and at least pounds 80,000 for the winner was not an intimidating factor but a lack of recent titles seemed to inhibit both players. McManus has converted only four of his 33 semi-finals into first prizes, of which the 1996 Thailand Open was the most recent. Doherty's 18-12 win over Stephen Hendry in the 1997 World Championship final proved to be the overture only to a couple of minor triumphs.

Until a couple of months ago, McManus seemed to be on the slide, but he reached the Irish Open final in December before losing to Mark Williams, one of three recent defeats by the Welsh left-hander which he avenged by a 6-4 margin in this week's quarter-finals. Even that success, however, illustrated one of this methodical Scot's weaknesses - uncertainty in clinching winning positions after leading the contest 5-1.

A 78-0 opening frame was an encouraging omen for McManus yesterday but the contest settled into turgidity with a series of protracted frames. Doherty's 49 clinched the second and he eventually secured the 29-minute third. McManus, 13 in front in the fourth, attempted to double the penultimate red but let Doherty in for 32 and a 3-1 lead.

The Irishman made 44 to increase this to 4-1 but McManus fluked a snooker on the last red in the sixth to go to 4-2. Doherty seemed certain to go three up with four to play when, from 45 behind, he made 60 only to lose concentration on the simple pink which would have ended the frame and McManus took full advantage after laying on a difficult snooker.

Pink and black brought McManus to 3-4 and back into contention but Doherty set aside irritation and self-criticism to clear with 87 for 5-3. With 37 to win on the pink he added the ninth to clinch his place in the final.

John Higgins was last night continuing his pursuit of a World, UK and Masters title triple previously performed only by Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, with Anthony Hamilton, the world No 11, hoping to deny him.