Snooker: Parrott's vision of a new legend

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IT HAS been one of the absolutes of snooker but John Parrott was willing to challenge it yesterday, chiselling away at what is supposed to be set in stone: that Jimmy White is the best player never to be the world snooker champion.

Parrott, who beat White in the 1991 final, lost 13-9 to Ronnie O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals of the Embassy World Championship then discarded what is a much loved tune in the game's hymn book. "They say it's a travesty that Jimmy has never won here," he said, "but it will be a bigger one if Ronnie doesn't because for pure natural talent he is the best player who has ever wielded a cue.

"He makes it looks so effortless, he floats around the table, pings balls in from everywhere and strikes the cue ball ever so sweetly. If I hadn't been playing it would have been a pleasure to watch."

O'Sullivan, 23, has long been a phenomenon without the prizes to equate with his talent, largely because his mental rigidity has been inversely proportionate to it. Frequently he has threatened to give up snooker in sheer, bloody-minded frustration and even during this tournament he has spoken of being depressed.

Yet Parrott, who threatened an unlikely revival when he dragged an overnight deficit of 11-5 to 12-9, has detected mettle where before there appeared to be only the attention span of the average goldfish.

"The reason why he won the match was not through making the breaks but through application," Parrott said. "Ronnie will tell you about his demons and it frustrates me when I'm watching because I know how good he is and it must frustrate him because occasionally he just doesn't feel like it.

"He's much more focused this week. He's here to win, you can see that. His demeanour told me that. His safety play was pretty good and he was in there, competitive. It was a bit like trying to stem the tide because every time I missed I got an 80 or a 100 shoved up me."

Parrott's stock in trade is obduracy and yesterday he brandished it like a flag. Breaks of 97 and 93 took him to within three frames of O'Sullivan and it spoke of the growing maturity in the No 3 seed that he could watch the charge of a player who had beaten him six times out of eight prior to yesterday with such equanimity.

In the end it required luck via a kick on Parrott's attempted pot into the centre pocket for O'Sullivan to cross the line for a semi-final against Stephen Hendry. In the past he would have been flogging himself internally for letting his opponent come so close but he appears to be learning he cannot be brilliant all the time. "I'm getting spasms now where for four or five frames I'm unbeatable, but in the bad spells I'm minimising them and not losing them as heavily as I used to do," he said. "It's something I learned last year when I lost a session 8-0 to John Higgins and virtually threw the towel in. I was thinking `it's a long season, let's get out of here and enjoy the holiday'. Now I'll fight."

Like Parrott, Ken Doherty scrapped yesterday only to find the 11-5 disadvantage from the night before too much of a hangover. The final margin of his quarter-final defeat by Mark Williams was 13-9.

Williams is one of the form horses at the Crucible after becoming only the fourth man to win three ranking events in a season after Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and John Higgins. The match was won in the first session when the Welshman established a 7-1 lead.

"He had a purple patch," Doherty, the 1997 champion, said. "I took the first frame then the rest of the session was fantastic for him. He didn't make great breaks but 40s and 50s, put me into trouble."

Classic tactical snooker, and there was a touch of ruthlessness about Williams' break of 97 that put Doherty out of his misery. "After the first session I didn't think Ken could win it, it would have been a matter of me throwing it away," the 24-year-old Williams said. "I'm a little bit more experienced now and can handle it better when someone comes charging back at you."