Snooker: Doherty takes initiative

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The Independent Online
Ken Doherty has always believed he would win the world title and after the first session of the Embassy World Championship at the Crucible yesterday there was little reason to contradict him.

Stephen Hendry, the six times champion, threw three centuries at the man hoping to become the first player from the Republic of Ireland to triumph at the Crucible and they made barely a dent. Instead of buckling under these scores, Doherty led 5-3.

"There's something different there now," Doherty had said as he had prepared for the match. "It's brought something out of me. The final is the pinnacle, a real honour. I can't believe it, I'm going to be involved in the biggest occasion of the year."

Big occasions bring fresh strains and the early frames were important to Doherty. Playing at unprecedented heights, a sportsman wonders whether he is strong enough and before yesterday Doherty had won only one ranking tournament, the Welsh Open. Would he grow into the occasion; would he blink if he stared the World Championship in the face?

At least the Irishman was fresh. Last year Peter Ebdon reached the final and found the effort of getting there so arduous that he could not raise the strength when he needed it most. Doherty was coming into a meeting with Hendry fresh from a day off after beating Alain Robidoux with a session to spare. Earlier in the tournament he had routed Steve Davis 13-3 for another rest.

Instead it was Hendry who looked to be searching for inner reserves. As he waited for the doors to open for the preliminaries, the champion yawned twice and rubbed his eyes. In another player you might have mistaken the gestures for complacency, in him it was genuine tiredness.

He has won five tournaments this year and been in close contention in four others and that, in conjunction with the desire to take a record breaking seventh modern world title, has taken its toll.

The opening frame certainly did not show Hendry at his most sprightly. He began encouragingly, potting a long red with his first shot, a crisp pink following, but his third effort was a horrible miscue that sent the white over the pack for a foul.

Jaded or not, you do not become the best player in history, however, without the ability to find something when you require it and Hendry's response was a typical throwing down of the gauntlet with breaks of 117 and 106.

It is easy to get blase about these centuries but it should be remembered that Alex Higgins, a potter of the near impossible at his peak, has managed only 45 in his career. Hendry with these two and the one that finished the session took his tally for this season alone to 44.

Yet even the sublime is of little use if you only find it intermittently and mix it with errors. From 2-1 ahead, the champion missed chances that he would pot 999 times out of a thousand in practice and Doherty won four frames in succession.

Nothing spectacular, his highest break of the session was 69 but it was enough to chip away at Hendry's self-belief, which is diminished by Doherty's recent record of four wins and a draw in their last five meetings. Little yesterday will have encouraged him.