Snooker: Morgan knocked out by Hendry and the 'Prince'

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The Independent Online
Alex Higgins was not only a master of the snooker cue, he was more than adept at finding reasons for a defeat. "He was in my line of thought," he once raged about a referee who, he claimed, was deliberately standing in the wrong place for every shot he attempted.

Darren Morgan had a variation on the theme after losing 13-10 to Stephen Hendry in his Embassy World Championship quarter-final yesterday. It was not the referee diverting his gaze, nor even the streaker who interrupted Ronnie O'Sullivan's concentration in February's Benson and Hedges Masters, but the far more menacing shape of the boxer, "Prince" Naseem Hamed. "It had a massive bearing on the result," he said.

The world featherweight champion, a friend of Hendry, sat in the press seats which are just a few feet away from the table and so unnerved Morgan that he insisted he was removed. "I've never met the man," he said "I've only seen him on telly and it was like 'wow'.

"It was putting me off and getting Stephen in the mood so I politely asked for him to be moved so I couldn't see him. He has got an intimidating face, you wonder if at any minute he's going to jump out and lay one on you."

The last sentence was said humorously, although you can imagine that the steward who had to tell Naseem to "hop it or there'll be trouble" failed to see the funny side. Morgan, too, was sufficiently upset to contemplate refusing to play unless he was moved.

All of which played into the hands of the six-times world champion, who is the last person to need any help. Both players agreed that the Naseem- influenced session, which Hendry took 6-2, was the decisive one and yesterday a 9-7 lead was smoothly turned into victory.

Morgan began in imposing form but every time the challenger got level the holder kicked ahead again. The crucial point came at 11-10 when Morgan miscued a blue so horribly you feared for the baize. Hendry won the frame with a break of 62 and then took the 23rd.

"It was a very hard match," Hendry said. "People forget how good he is and write him off. He's very capable. If he'd beaten me he'd have won the tournament." Had he noticed Hamed? "He had a big silver coat on, you couldn't miss him."

Which is not how you would describe Alain Robidoux. The French-Canadian 14th seed had never got beyond the second round at the Crucible before, but suddenly finds himself in the semi-finals having exploited the gap left by the elimination of Peter Ebdon, Alan McManus and Dave Harold.

That gap was caused in part by his opponent yesterday, Lee Walker, and the thanks he got for it was a 13-8 defeat. Just 9-7 ahead overnight, Robidoux quashed any chances of another shock with four successive frames. His guaranteed prize- money, pounds 63,000, will be more than double his previous best.

Robidoux becomes the first Canadian to get within range of the World Championship since Cliff Thorburn, Kirk Stevens, Bill Werbeniuk and Jim Wych threatened to take the sport's power base across the Atlantic in the Seventies and Eighties. Since then American pool has become the predominant cue sport in Robidoux's country.

"I hope this result is going to bring a lot of publicity because snooker has declined," he said.

Talking about his previous, unimpressive record in Sheffield, he added: "I get very nervous. I try too hard to do well and that's just the wrong thing to do. Normally I'm expected to win, this time I'll be the underdog. I will be stronger this time."