Snooker: Laid-back approach keeps Doherty on course

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KEN DOHERTY says he is under pressure but you would be hard put to find evidence of it. Like David Gower, who looked as though batting was merely an extension to his social whirl, he has been playing at the Embassy World Championship as if an enemy's life depended on it.

Successfully, too, because he established a 6-2 lead in his semi-final against Mark Williams yesterday and is seriously threatening to follow up last year's win with an appearance in the final. He requires 11 frames over three sessions today and tomorrow.

His sang-froid, he maintains, is because he has achieved his life's ambition. He wanted to be world champion and instead of worrying about remaining there he is determined to enjoy the experience no matter how temporary it is. "I've come with the same cavalier attitude I had last year," he said, "and if it happens again it happens, but if it doesn't it'll still have been a great year.''

There are many sportsmen who proclaim to being relaxed who act on the field of play as if they are trying get a part as the T Rex in Jurassic Park, but Doherty is not one of them. That was evident in his second frame yesterday.

Doherty was just launching himself into a break when a disturbance broke out in the crowd. A silver-haired man, who was probably as sober as a judge but gave the impression he could give newts a lesson in drinking, suddenly got up and, seemingly oblivious to the chaos he was causing, tripped over the people next to him.

Colin Montgomerie would have given him a stare worthy of Medusa if someone had done that while he was over a putt, while Seve Ballesteros would still be rotting in jail for his retribution, but Doherty merely broke off from his stroke, looked up and smiled at the incongruity of the situation. There is only a first prize of pounds 220,000 at stake, after all.

"I'm not playing as well as last year," Doherty said. "I've struggled in all three games, performing only in patches. But I feel more complete this year than I have in previous seasons even if I'm not firing on all cylinders. In different ways I am better. I'm tougher, harder to beat.

"Getting through that pain barrier last year is important. You've won on the big stage, you know it's there and you just have to wait for it to come out.''

It emerged with a flourish yesterday, Doherty beginning with a breaks of 42 and 45 for the first frame and then winning safety exchanges for a 3-1 lead. The fifth frames and eighth frames were pivotal, however, as Williams missed chances to seal them - and the champion swooped.

In the former Doherty had to clear the colours to take it to a re-spotted black, which he potted when Williams went for glory with a long shot and the latter was sealed with two snookers and a break of 25 after the challenger missed a relatively easy yellow into a corner pocket. It will be a long way back for the man from Cwm, Wales, now.

"To use an old cliche," Doherty said, "I'm taking each session as it comes. There's still an awfully long way to go in the match, and Mark is a dangerous opponent, but naturally I'm delighted with the start I've made.''

Nevertheless, Williams will have been glad to meet an opponent who did not get up his nose quite like Peter Ebdon did in the quarter-finals. "A pain in the neck," was among the descriptions he used for his beaten opponent, because he objected to the over-enthusiastic celebrations when he won an early tight frame.

"I laughed when he did that," Williams said. "I couldn't see why you'd react like that at that stage. He was so slow in the first session it was boring and some of the crowd walked out.''

Christmas cards are unlikely to be exchanged.