Snooker: O'Brien surprise for Higgins

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The Independent Online
FERGAL O'BRIEN, a Dubliner who stands 20th in the world rankings, and Anthony Hamilton, the world No 11 from Nottingham both make maiden appearances in a world ranking final as they dispute the pounds 60,000 first prize in the British Open today.

O'Brien's 6-5 win over the defending champion, John Higgins, was a major surprise and a setback the world No 1 could have done without since his defence of the world title starts at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield on Saturday. Hamilton's 6-1 win over Jimmy Michie, the world No 81 from Pontefract, brought the burly Yorkshireman's week of giant-killing to a tame conclusion.

Three mediocre frames last night gave way to consecutive centuries, a 112 by O'Brien to level at 2-2, a 116 from Higgins to regain the lead. The obvious scenario was for Higgins to pull away but O'Brien equalised at 3-3 with a run of 63 and completed his recovery from 0-57 with a yellow to pink clearance to lead 4-3. With 74, he went two up with three to play.

The Irishman did not score in the ninth, which Higgins concluded with a run of 57, but his 61 put him 40 ahead with only three reds left in the 10th.

The world champion's first clearance attempt foundered as he hit the green a whisker too softly and left it on the lip of a pocket. Snookered as he was by the brown, O'Brien seemed to have a simple enough swerve to pot the green but, fearful of swerving the cue ball too much and sending it into the pocket as well, swerved it too little and failed to make contact.

Higgins cleared to level at 5-5 but with immense resilience O'Brien overcame his disappointment and settled to the 68 which left the world No 1 needing a snooker in the decider.

Hamilton dropped a 48-minute opening frame to Michie on the pink and was initially tentative for fear that he might bungle his golden chance to reach his first major final but once he had cleared with 34 to win the second frame on the black he drew steadily away with a solid display which included breaks of 70, 55, 70 and 74.

"These things come when you least expect them," said Hamilton. I had tonsillitis, which really knocked me about, and I came down to Plymouth really struggling in practice. The aim was to get through one match so this is fantastic."

A trio of 5-4 successes over Marco Fu, Paul Hunter, and Mark Williams put him through to a quarter-final in which he beat Stephen Hendry 5-3.