Snooker: Hendry's pursuit of hat-trick hits the pain barrier: White stands on the verge of his fifth successive final as Morgan's vaunted durability disintegrates under pressure of occasion

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The Independent Online
THE SCARES about Stephen Hendry are increasing as he gets nearer to becoming only the second player after Steve Davis to win the World Championship three years in succession at the Crucible. Yesterday, for about four hours, it appeared he might have to withdraw from the tournament altogether.

The 25-year-old Scot, who established an 8-7 lead over Davis in their best-of-31-frames semi-final yesterday, had to go to hospital after the afternoon session with the words of his manager, Ian Doyle, casting a pessimistic note.

'He is in agony,' Doyle said of the hairline fracture below the left elbow that Hendry incurred when he slipped on a bathroom rug last week. 'There's a slight twist in the arm and he fears he might have caused it more damage by playing with it.'

An X-ray allayed these worries, however, and he will go in pursuit of his fourth world title fortified with different painkillers. But even yesterday, Hendry's impediment, although clear to him, was kept well camouflaged. He took four of the seven frames available and holds a slight advantage over his great rival.

His arm notwithstanding, it was an impressive performance from Hendry, who began the day at 4-4 and set the tone of the session with breaks of 57 and 90 to take the first two frames.

Indeed, an observer with no prior knowledge of snooker would have assumed that the man who had to sit between sessions with his arm in a sling was the tall ginger-haired player with a penchant for sipping water. Davis, who has reached more quarter-finals in ranking events than anyone this season, was anything but the picture of consistency.

Only an unfortunate run of the balls for his opponent in the third frame of the day, when Hendry snookered himself on the pink, allowed Davis to reduce the arrears and his last two frames were gained when Hendry was suffering most.

Hendry pressed on to go 8-5 ahead but Davis, who has won 15 of their 36 competitive meetings, took the next two frames 82-5 and 78-69 to keep himself in contention and within conceivable reach of his seventh world title.

There were currents flowing below the obvious incentive of reaching the final as Hendry has said before that being world No 1 means more to him than being world champion. His reasoning is that only a good sequence of results will achieve top ranking while a sudden flash of form can prevail at the Crucible and, to his chagrin, Davis holds top position in the provisional rankings.

There was also the little matter of pounds 55,000, the difference between being the beaten semi-finalist and the runner-up prize of pounds 110,000. And no one is more accustomed to picking up the second cheque in Sheffield than Jimmy White, who has been the beaten finalist five times. With every one of those defeats the suspicion has grown that he is destined to be the best player never to win the world title but, like a moth to a flame, he is drawn towards further pain in the dwindling hope he might find glory.

Yesterday morning he moved closer to his fifth successive final when he extended his overnight lead of 4-3 to 15-7 against Darren Morgan. He requires only one frame today. It was not vintage White - the play was fragmented and error-strewn - but it was enough to suppress Morgan, whose durability, a feature of the tournament, seemed to have been discarded. Only occasionally did he unveil the form that beat John Parrott and Willie Thorne, most notably a 73 in the 20th frame.

By then, the tension had evaporated and the mood of the match had taken on that of an exhibition. For White the real pressure will resume tomorrow.