Snooker: Fu in the frame at last

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The Independent Online
HE IS yet to win a professional title and Marco Fu is only a modest 43rd in the world rankings, but the 20-year-old from Hong Kong is tipped to become the snooker phenomenon of the next millennium.

That is why Fu gets a chance to rub shoulders with the game's greatest names and non-snooker celebrities at the Liverpool Victoria Charity Challenge, which starts in Derby today.

He has been awarded the first wild card invitation of his brief career to take part in a tournament when the success of the players benefits a host of charities, from Breast Cancer Care to Child Poverty Action Group. Sunday's champion collects pounds 30,000 for himself, with pounds 100,000 going to charity.

It is just possible Fu could land the jackpot for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. While the rest of the weary 12-man field come to the Assembly Rooms after consecutive events in London and Aberdeen, Fu has been preparing for his big day back home in the Far East.

Fu has not competed since the Welsh Open in Cardiff last month and does not need to worry about forthcoming ranking events in Thailand and China, because he did not qualify. So, his attention is focused on doing well in the Charity Challenge and succeeding the defending champion, John Higgins.

However, Fu, the runner-up to Stephen Lee at the Grand Prix in Preston last October, could not have landed a tougher start. He meets the Welsh and Irish Open champion, Mark Williams, in his first match today, with the winner to meet the Masters runner-up and Scottish Open semi-finalist, Ken Doherty, for a place in the last four.

Fu's ability was quickly recognised by his manager Ian Doyle, who has signed him to his Cuemasters stable.

"Marco has got terrific ability and the ideal temperament for this game, and it wouldn't surprise me if he won the title this week," Doyle said.

John Higgins, smarting from his black-ball semi-final defeat by Stephen Hendry in Aberdeen last Saturday, opens his campaign against Peter Ebdon or Steve Davis, who gets the tournament underway this morning. Hendry, fresh from his Scottish Open title win, takes on Jimmy White or John Parrott.

LIVERPOOL VICTORIA CHARITY CHALLENGE (Derby) Today's order of play (best of nine frames): 10am S Davis (Eng) v P Ebdon (Eng). 1pm M Williams (Wal) v M Fu (HK). 4pm J Parrott (Eng) v J White (Eng). 7pm A McManus (Sco) v D Taylor (N Irl).

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