Snooker: Higgins drowns in soggy session

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JOHN HIGGINS' chance of becoming the first modern first-time champion to retain the Embassy World Championship is receding. Mark Williams has taken a 14-10 lead and needs only three of the nine frames this afternoon to reach his first final.

Held up in the morning by water dripping on to the table, Higgins was washed away by the torrent of pots from the fifth-seeded Williams in the evening as the 24-year-old Welshman took the session 6-2. Breaks of 75, 60, 90 and 71 testified to his power and accuracy

Williams, who will be ranked at least third in next year's world rankings, reached the semi-finals last year where he believes it was his nerves as much as Ken Doherty's prowess that proved decisive. Last night there was not the slightest hint of apprehension.

Level 8-8 from the morning session, Williams came off the blocks by taking the first four frames in the evening and it required a final break of 71 by Higgins to keep the deficit down to four. In all probability it is an empty gesture and Wales will have its first finalist since Terry Griffiths in 1988.

Earlier there had been a disruption to the match that entered the realms of the surreal. Snooker has been halted by a wasp before and at the German Masters this season the players had to endure fireworks exploding above them. But rain stopped play? Surely not.

Well, almost. With Sheffield basking in glorious sunshine, water started dripping on the table, which was a nuisance not only because the players find it hard to cue while holding an umbrella but because moisture affects the performance of the balls.

Condensation dripping from the lighting was blamed officially, which made you wonder why it had not happened before in two decades of coverage, but with the covered table lulling cricket lovers into gentle anticipation of next month's World Cup a team of television technicians scrambled up scaffolding to rectify the problem and play resumed after 25 minutes.

You never know which Ronnie O'Sullivan is going to make an appearance but yesterday it was the one you want to get. He might have surrendered all hope in his semi-final against Stephen Hendry, instead he dragged himself back into it.

Trailing by four frames from the first day the world No 3 halved that deficit and at 9-7 in Hendry's favour the match could go either way. What is certain is that if the two sessions today match the ones that have preceded them it will be a magnificent prelude to the final.

When O'Sullivan does take off he flies at an altitude that even the likes of Hendry and Higgins cannot emulate. "It's like a stroll in the park," he says of his sublime moods and he was thinking of times like his start yesterday.

In the first session of the match Hendry had piled on 325 points before his opponent had potted a ball but the match turned 180 degrees yesterday because it was the six-times champion who had to sit in his chair and watch in horrified wonder as ball after ball thumped into the pockets.

Behind 6-2 overnight O'Sullivan began with a break of 67 to win the first frame of the day but that was just the prelude to the fusillade. A 135 followed a 122 and at one point he had compiled 405 points without reply. When he took the fourth 67-24 he had unpicked all Hendry's good work of the day before.

Hendry had to wait until this storm had blown itself out and he was helped by an interval which allowed him time to regroup and rethink. A break of 57 pushed the Scot into the lead again and although O'Sullivan made it 7-7 he pushed on again with a 45 and a 66 to give him a narrow advantage.

Colin Brinded, of Great Yarmouth, is to referee the 35-frame final of the World Championship for the first time.