Snooker: 'Lazy' Doherty gets his act together

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It has been a consistent answer whenever players have been asked who will win this year's Embassy World Championship at the Crucible. Stephen Hendry is mentioned, of course - you could hardly ignore him - but Ken Doherty is picked out as the man playing the best snooker.

"Ken looks as fresh as paint," John Parrott, the 1991 champion, said. "He's an exceptional match player who is not worried about Stephen or anyone which is the right way to be. I expect him to get to the final."

Doherty, the seventh seed from the Republic of Ireland, has to win the semi-final first and yesterday that was not a forgone conclusion by any means. At the end of the first session he and Canada's Alain Robidoux were level at 4-4 and a prolonged contest seemed to be unfolding.

Nevertheless, to be in the semi-final is an accomplishment for Doherty who was routed 6-1 by Steve Davis at the Benson and Hedges and Irish Masters and irritated his manager, Ian Doyle, so much last month he described him as "lazy".

Doyle has Hendry as one of his players and the six-times world champion would make Hercules seem idle, but the portents for Sheffield were not promising. Davis was sorted out with a 13-3 win in the second round, while even the manager has been placated by his charge's sudden enthusiasm for work.

"I didn't know what 7.30 in the morning was," said Doherty, who spent four weeks before the World Championships practising seven hours a day with Ronnie O'Sullivan in Ilford. "Ian did have a point.

"He's a great manager and a great friend and I suppose I'm a bit of a lazy bastard at times. I have tried to change over the last few weeks and it's certainly paid off. I thought I was practising hard before but I was doing it a different way and maybe not so much."

Yesterday Doherty's start belied the "practice makes perfect" philosophy. His opening shot was an attempt to rest the white against the pack but he misread the speed of the table and his first action of the match was to give away four points for a foul.

Like Doherty, Robidoux, the 14th seed, is playing in his first World Championship semi-final and he looked anything but fazed by the occasion. Introduced as the "Montreal Magician" by Alan Hughes, the master of ceremonies, he did not exactly cast a spell but he did have the upper hand for much of the session leading 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 before the Irishman levelled with a break of 75.

What the score is between Darren Morgan and "Prince" Naseem Hamed is debatable but what had begun as the snooker player asking for the boxer to be removed from the press seats at the Crucible during his quarter- final with Hendry because he found Naseem's presence "intimidating" flowered into a full-scale fuss yesterday.

Hamed, a close friend of Hendry, was scathing about the world No 9, saying the Welshman had made a "silly, stupid excuse - a kid, childish remark".

"I'm embarrassed for the boy," Hamed said. "If he calls himself a world- class player how can he turn round and say a two-times world champion in the front row spooked him?"

Morgan fought back on Radio 5 Live. "He's talking through his hat really, but who am I to say that - he's a world champion," he said. "But it was a bit of a stupid statement. It just intimidated me, he's got an intimidating face. There's a press box there and he's not press."

Morgan said he enjoyed watching Hamed box but could not resist adding: "Everybody would like to see him smacked out - and I am probably no different."

Frank Warren, the promoter, also weighed in by offering Morgan a ringside seat for tomorrow's dual world featherweight title fight against Billy Hardy at the Nynex Centre in Manchester. "We have invited Darren Morgan to take a front row seat at the fight, to see if he can intimidate Naz on behalf of Billy. I'm sure he'd love to do that."

Morgan has declined and was understandably upset to hear himself described as "childish" and "immature" by the fighter. What he had forgotten is the first law of boxing: nothing sells tickets like a row.

Alan Chamberlain, 54, of Wigan, will referee the World Championship final for the first the first time on Sunday and Monday.