SNOOKER Hendry staves off threat of O'Sullivan

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reports from Sheffield

Before Ronnie O'Sullivan met Stephen Hendry in the quarter-finals of the Embassy World Championships he wondered about his opponent's hunger. He knows now that the four-times champion can still desire even if he no longer has to dream.

Hendry, meeting the 19-year-old player most assume will pick up the torch of supremacy once he puts it down, secured a slender advantage to take into this morning's final session. At 9-7 he is four frames away from the semi-finals.

Snooker players operate on a small scale. Forget the match, just concentrate on the eight-frame session and make the most of your advantage when you are flowing. Hendry inflicted his damage yesterday morning, gaining a two-frame lead that he just about clung on to when O'Sullivan later had a closer acquaintance with his best form.

It was snooker at the gallop, with frames lasting less than 12 minutes on average, but for all the haste the quality was virtually unimpaired. Just occasionally O'Sullivan's concentration would slip and the title holder would strike with the accuracy of an arrow. Hendry had eight scores of 50 or more, including a 103.

Jimmy White has been Hendry's beaten opponent in the last three world finals, and the eternal bridesmaid was heading for another encounter with his nemesis yesterday. He established a 6-2 lead over John Parrott and requires seven frames to reach the semi-finals, where he will probably meet Hendry.

This time. It is always this time for White's supporters. The law of averages, the date of the final, the astrological position of the planets, anything to pin their hopes to. Now, the theory goes, so much has gone wrong for him this year, something good must be round the corner.

In the last month alone he has had a cancerous testicle removed and been an innocent participant in the match-fixing inquiry that followed his match against Peter Francisco. When the the tip on his cue broke on Saturday thoughts of last straws surely flickered through his mind.

Certainly he looked strained yesterday. Never the picture of health, his face was pallid even by the ghost-like colours that normally shade his features. The previous evening he had complained of playing so poorly he did not have a hope of winning.

Parrott struck first, taking a 2-1 lead as his opponent mixed the good with the bad. Then shortish breaks of 34 and 25 gave White the fourth frame and he was away, showing a fluency that has so far eluded him. The second half of the session was a landslide in his favour to give him an encouraging lead to take into today's two sessions.

In concert with the White-Parrott match a more subdued contest was taking place between two players who have created their own opportunity by removing James Wattana and Alan McManus. Nigel Bond, McManus's conqueror, gained a slight advantage, 5-3 over Gary Wilkinson. Andy Hicks, meanwhile, is within two frames of reaching the semi-final in his first appearance at The Crucible after taking an 11-5 lead over the second favourite, Peter Ebdon.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Crucible Theatre, Sheffield) Quarter-finals (to be completed): J White (Eng) leads J Parrott (Eng) 6-2; N Bond (Eng) leads G Wilkinson (Eng) 5-3; S Hendry (Sco) leads R O'Sullivan (Eng) 9-7; A Hicks (Eng) leads P Ebdon (Eng) 11-5.