Snooker: Higgins made to fight by Small

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The Independent Online
JOHN HIGGINS, who beat Mark Williams 9-8 to win last month's Grand Prix at Preston found a fellow Scot, Chris Small, blocking easy access to a place in the last 16 of the Liverpool Victoria UK Championship at the Bournemouth International Centre.

Small, the world No 18, is a dour, meticulous sort who seldom makes an unforced error. He led 3-1 and by 43 points in the fifth only to lose momentum through an unlucky in-off. Higgins managed to close to 3-2 behind but looked to be facing a long struggle in this best of 17 frames contest.

Williams, very disappointed to lose in Preston from 6-2 up had no such problems against Michael Judge, a Dubliner who stands 67th in the world rankings.The Welsh left-hander opened with an 86 break and completed his progress to 6-0 with a run of 74. Judge, having missed several chances, opened his account by taking the seventh.

One of Stephen's Hendry's driving forces has been to surpass the records set by Steve Davis, who at the end of the last decade had six world and six UK titles to his name. Hendry won his seventh world title last spring but, chasing his sixth UK, he hung of the precipice of defeat on Thursday, three down with four to play, to Jason Ferguson, the world No 50, before scrambling through 9-8.

It was quite a day for Ferguson, whose wife had given birth to their first child during the night. Only an hour's sleep that night and a brief nap between sessions, not to mention the tension of trying to nail down the biggest win of his career, left him a spent force by the end of the day.

Yesterday morning, though, Hendry again struggled to engage his higher gears even as he led Stuart Pettman, the world No 68 from Preston, 3-0 and 4-1. he almost rescued the seventh frame from 51-0 behind but Pettman coolly and resolutely accrued the last three frames of the morning to level at 4-4.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, twice UK champion but unable to defend the title a year ago because of nervous exhaustion and depression, does not hold a title of any description, but has not lost to anyone outside the top 10 this season. He was soon away to a 3-0 lead over Wayne Brown, who was a male nurse in St Helens before turning professional five years ago at 25.

The world No 83 has been having his best season, beating five opponents, including Jimmy White, to qualify for next month's final phase of the China international in Shanghai, and James Wattana 9-6 here to earn a rare television appearance.

A little edgy, he missed the pink which would have given him the second frame, but reduced a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 before O'Sullivan cut loose with a three-frame winning streak in just 23 minutes, making a break of 108 in 4min 10sec to clinch his 6-2 lead at the end of the first session.