Snooker: Higgins homes in on UK and world double

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The Independent Online
JOHN HIGGINS, the world No 1, assembled a six-frame winning streak to beat the 20-year-old Yorkshireman Paul Hunter in their UK championship semi-final. Victory over the 21-year-old Welshman Matthew Stevens in today's final would give him pounds 75,000 and complete a world and UK title double previously performed only by Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and John Parrott.

Hunter, whose defence of the Welsh Open will take place in Cardiff in January, was left to rue the loss both of the last frame of the afternoon and the first of the evening. Leading 4-3 and 53-0, he missed a simple pink. Higgins replied with 53, was unfortunate to suffer a "kick" on the pink but forced an error in the ensuing safety duel from which he potted pink and black to level at 4-4 at the adjournment.

Hunter, 44-0 ahead, perfectly on the black and with a clear run to home in the first frame of the evening missed inexplicably. Higgins recovered to win the frame on the black and outscore Hunter 338-12 in the remaining four frames he required, making breaks of 49, 71, 101, and 89. "It was big first frame tonight" Higgins reflected.

Like Hunter, Matthew Stevens, the 21-year-old Welshman who beat the world No 19, Dave Harold, 9-7 in Friday's semi-final is a member of the Wheels in Motion management stable, so called because it is run by Geoff Faint, a victim of the thalidomide tragedy, whose lifetime in a wheelchair did not prevent him from winning a scholarship to Repton and, in due course, building up his promising business.

Stevens is a natural. When his father Morrell, a Carmarthen accountant, asked Terry Griffiths to look at him when he was nine, he found a cue action in which he saw nothing to alter. The former world champion's club in Llanelli, whose regular one-day tournaments make it a focal point for most serious players in south and west Wales, provides Stevens' daily practice base when he is not out on the road.

Two world ranking semi-finals and the world quarter-finals not only elevated him to 26th in the end of season rankings but made him a very strong candidate for a top 16 place when the list receives its annual revision, assessed on performances over two seasons, next spring.

With many of the big names departing early, the Welsh youngster did at times seem inhibited by the fear of bungling the opportunity which was opening up in front of him. He trailed Matthew Couch, the world No 78, 5-3 overnight before coming through their quarter-final 9-5, and hastily overreached for match ball and a 9-2 victory over Rod Lawler in the last 16. Having given himself a few needless twinges of anxiety, he was relieved to shake hands at 9-5 an hour later.

Stevens has, however, remained highly focused in his two tight finishes, making 135 to complete his 9-7 win over Bradley Jones in the first round and 72 (in response to Harold's 60) for the pink ball win which sealed his 9-7 semi-final success.

Stevens has everything it takes to be a top player and he is rapidly learning the lessons which only experience can provide.

Off-table, the conflict between establishment and anti-establishment forces continues unabated. The recently reformed Snooker Writers Association, outraged by the "aggressive attitude" of one of the governing body's media officials towards two of its members, has informed the WPBSA chairman Rex Williams that "we will no longer use sponsors' names at any tournaments until a full apology has been issued".

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