Snooker: Hendry armed for final fight

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SINCE he slipped and fell in his hotel bathroom on the first Thursday night of the Embassy World Championship here, the defending champion Stephen Hendry has become owner of the most famous fractured forearm in Britain. No one expected the 25-year-old Scot to go home straight away, but few would have given much for his chances of a long-term stay.

Instead, today and tomorrow Hendry will face Jimmy White in the final after yesterday's remarkable 16-9 victory over Steve Davis. Even the most fervent optimist would have had trouble predicting that for him. Hendry, 13-9 up after the morning session, took the first three frames in the evening to clinch the match, a break of 120 taking him to 14-9 and Davis fluffing a great chance to secure the 24th frame. 'Of course, I'm proud of him,' Hendry's manager Ian Doyle said, 'but you've got to remember he's the defending champion, and the Crucible is special for him.'

White had made it into his fifth consecutive final by potting the black off three cushions to beat Darren Morgan 16-8. White, who had held a 15-7 lead overnight, took marginally longer than expected to get shot of the Welshman but even so, slow blinkers might have missed it. Now it remains to be seen whether his peculiar combination of brilliance and mediocrity can show itself in a winning ratio over the next two days.

Good though it was to see this 37th birthday present for the Tooting Tornado - well, Oxshott now, but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it - the White-Morgan brief encounter seemed little more than a tiresome interruption to the enormous struggle taking place between the other two semi-finalists, Hendry and Davis.

Yet here Hendry was yesterday morning in the four-man queue for a place in the final, and against all belief he was actually leading. Heroic is an adjective strewn rather too liberally around sporting performance, but Hendry's display has been extraordinary and unprecedented, and yesterday it surpassed everything.

It was barely all we could take in that he had finished 8-7 up over Davis after Friday night's session, when all the sensible money had been on Barry Hearn's boy from Romford. After all, Davis has turned into the supreme tactician these days. With Hendry suffering every time he needed to make a bridging shot, and distracted by the sheer mental effort of coping with his incapacitation, you could understand the optimism in the Davis camp.

Hendry's overnight lead was achieved at the cost of excruciating pain and the fear that worse damage had been inflicted on his left arm. X-rays showed that at least that had not happened, but a change of medication failed to do the business in the morning session and Hendry was once again sustained only by Neurofen and courage.

It looked bad for him at first. Davis pulled back the first frame to make it 8-8 after Hendry snookered himself playing blue from yellow and hit the black instead. The second frame went to Davis as well. Then, amazingly, Hendry started to put things together - a 75 break that brought him to level- pegging at 9-9, then a string of frames. It did his cause no harm that with the chance to level to 10-10 Davis missed the kind of black that he would normally have dealt with blindfolded.

Hendry said of his arm: 'It's much sorer than it was against Dave Harold (in his opening match),' he said, 'but it's bound to be. When I'm in the balls and my hand is on the table it's fine. I'd love Jimmy to win the final . . . if he wasn't playing me.'

(Photograph omitted)