Snooker: Hendry avoids the trap-door

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The Independent Online
"Opening days are horrible, everyone is waiting for the first surprise, it could be you," Steve Davis once remarked on starting the 17-day marathon of the mind which is the Embassy World Championship.

Davis lay foremost among the fallen in 1982 when, defending the title for the first time, he was drubbed 10-1 by Tony Knowles. An identical fate befell Dennis Taylor in 1986, 12 months after heroically edging Davis on the final black to become champion.

Stephen Hendry's prevailing emotion was therefore relief immediately following his 10-6 victory over Andy Hicks, a Devonian generally regarded as the most accomplished qualifier, in the first round at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield last night.

"It was a fairly comfortable victory, and I felt confident all day. What's going on upstairs is so important here," said Hendry, who is now unbeaten in 26 matches at the sports showcase event since losing 13-11 to Steve James in a quarter-final upset six years ago.

Hendry laid the foundation for his relatively smooth passage by leading 6-3 after a high-quality morning session in which the highlights were breaks of 58, 81, 84, 42, 82 and, most crucially, 69 in the ninth frame after Hicks had rallied from a 5-1 deficit to 5-3.

On the restart, Hendry continued to exploit the majority of his scoring opportunities to the full. Indeed, he had the distinction of compiling the first century of this year's championship, 101, in the first frame of the evening.

Trailing 4-9, Hicks earned a double stay of execution but the feeling that he was merely delaying the inevitable was confirmed when Hendry controlled frame 16 to ease through to a second-round match against Terry Griffiths or Mark Williams, the Welshman who trounced him 9-2 in the final of the British Open at Plymouth a fortnight ago.

Hicks, who had never previously met Hendry, left the arena thoroughly impressed by his conqueror's presence at the table. "It was different from what I expected. Stephen dominates you and makes it difficult to get any rhythm going," said Hicks, a semi-finalist here in 1995.

Although he has already won three world ranking titles, Williams is making his Crucible debut and fell 2-0 and 4-2 adrift to Terry Griffiths before emerging with a 5-4 overnight lead.

Griffiths, champion at his first attempt 18 years ago - and a first fence faller the next year - retired at the end of last season to become the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association's director of coaching, but decided upon one last nostalgic championship. Ring-rusty as he was, having played just one match this season, Griffiths performed well although his concentration weakened in the closing frames. An emotional exit from snooker's most famous stage is the likely outcome this morning.

Stefan Mazrocis, the world No 81 from Leicester, was 7-1 down before he won the first of his five qualifying matches 10-9, but he could well claim the scalp of Peter Ebdon, the world No 3, this afternoon. Epic wins over Jimmy White, Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan carried Ebdon to last year's final but he was ineffectual yesterday as he won only the first and last of the eight frames to trail 6-2.

His most significant blunder was a simple frame-ball brown in the sixth, an error compounded by Mazrocis pulling off the shot of the day on the pink with position for black.

The brown was also Ebdon's fatal ball in the seventh when he potted it at speed only to go in-off to leave Mazrocis ideally placed to lead 6- 1, reduced to 6-2 overnight.

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