Snooker: O'Sullivan has Hendry in his sights: Morgan outclassed by a youngster taking the quick route to snooker's peak

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The Independent Online
RONNIE O'SULLIVAN, the 17-year-old snooker sensation, became the youngest ever finalist at the UK Championships last night when he beat Darren Morgan of Wales by eight frames to five at the Guildhall, Preston.

O'Sullivan finished with a break of 116, remarkably the 55th century break of his career. Stephen Hendry, the world number one whom he faces in today's final, has managed 220 in his career. O'Sullivan surely spells severe trouble for Hendry, in the long term if not today, in spite of Hendry's record five centuries in seven frames against John Parrott on Friday night which many viewed as the best exhibition of snooker ever seen.

Having attracted unwelcome headlines two years ago when his father was jailed for life for a nightclub murder, O'Sullivan is sure to attract publicity in his own right. He does not so much observe the balls on the table as scuttle round them, playing at incredible speed. In all other respects he models himself on his stable-mate Steve Davis, down to the sips of water with finger outstretched and little rubs of his hands when it is his turn to pot.

Morgan, a boffin-like Welshman, attempted to slow the game down to such an extent that, he must have imagined, O'Sullivan would soon be pawing the lino in frustration. In the first frame of last night's session this went to ridiculous, if successful, extremes when O'Sullivan gave away 22 points trying to escape snookers. However, Morgan was eventually outclassed.

O'Sullivan said: 'I never played great, and to beat Stephen Hendry I'll have to. I can't wait to get out and play probably the greatest player who's ever lived. By the time I'm 20, hopefully I'll be liked him.'

Parrott, meanwhile, was still reeling from Friday's cruel devastation when Hendry finished him off yesterday morning. 'In the interval on Friday,' he said, 'when I was 3-1 down, a mate asked if I wanted to take the Telegraph crossword out with me for something to do. I said, 'I think I'd better take the supplement out as well'. In 10 years as a professional I have never known anything like it. When I got home I felt completely numb.'

Parrott admitted to an air of defeatism as he lugged his cue into the Guildhall yesterday morning. 'Even when I went a frame up I just felt I was dipping my toe into the water,' he said. 'I mean, if he's hitting the ball that well, he's not going to be going to pieces overnight is he?'

Indeed, although Parrott won the first two frames of the session it was noticeable that between shots he was shrugging embarrassedly, or smiling at some private snooker joke. When Hendry began pulling off long pots again, Parrott quickly capitulated, resigning even though he had a slim chance of snookering his way out of trouble.

Parrott added: 'It's not even as if I was playing badly; I was making 80s and 90s. It was phenomenal play by him. I was laughing about it in the car going home. People say that Joe Davis was a good player, but if he was that good then I'm the King of Siam.'

Parrott was the very first teenage snooker prodigy, appearing as a schoolboy on Nationwide to give an exhibition. It was Parrott who was supposed to lead snooker out of the Pot Black era, but it didn't happen. Despite winning a World Championship in 1991, Parrott cannot shrug off the nearly-man tag. 'Even this week people were saying, 'Don't bother betting on Parrott',' he said, 'because there's always one who'll beat John'.'

Hendry did not seem over-excited. As far as he was concerned, it was 'all history now'. He said: 'It's nice having a 7-1 lead going in, like I did today, but it's a different sort of pressure because there's no way you should get beat.' Asked if he could have bettered Friday's performance, Hendry joked: 'Aye, I could have made seven centuries.' It is all very well for Hendry to joke, but Parrott is not used to being so harshly humbled.

(Photograph omitted)