Snooker: Small left helpless in fabulous Fu's wake

MARCO FU, Hong Kong's new 20-year-old star from the east who had demonstrated authentic world-class potential in eliminating Ronnie O'Sullivan and a rejuvenated Peter Ebdon, yesterday reached the final of the Grand Prix by beating Chris Small 6-1.

In today's final he faces Stephen Lee, the world No 9, who recovered from the loss of four of the first five frames to triumph 6-4 over Dave Harold, the world No 19 who had eliminated Stephen Hendry 5-4 late on Friday.

Small, a tall, studious Scot who had beaten two members of the elite top 16, John Parrott and Anthony Hamilton, this week before his quarter- final success over his compatriot Jamie Burnett, was outplayed although he did clear with 107 to win the fourth frame after Fu, on 25, had been excessively ambitious in shot selection when bridging over a ball.

Fu took command in the opening frame when, from 22 behind, he pounced on Small's glaring lapse to clear with 63. An almost equally culpable error on 47 threw Small a lifeline in the second but he scored enough from a late chance to lead 2-0, converted to 3-0 with runs of 58 and 38.

Breaks of 77 and 50 featured as Fu progressed from 3-1 to 5-1 and by adding the scrappiest frame of the afternoon he assured himself of pounds 32,000.

"My mother's a Buddhist and I've learnt a few things about keeping calm from her," said Fu. "I'm going to play my best if I can keep calm and relaxed. I didn't think today was going to be that easy and I never imagined this would happen. My target coming here was just to beat a top player if I got the chance."

Small said that Fu was "a pretty frightening player. When he gets in the balls he never looks like missing. He looked to me like he was practising and because he's so cool, he's very dangerous".

Eleven months ago, half a world away from rainy Preston, Fu won the world amateur title in Bulawayo. With outside temperatures topping 100 degrees and no air-conditioning, the arena temperature was 110 degrees. No windows could be opened because an invasion of flying ants had stopped play.

Several birds, two pigeons, four or five doves and a handful of quileas (a local pest) were resident in the hall. The heat had drawn up the nap of the cloth like a shag-pile carpet in comparison with Preston's sleek, responsive surface.

Stuart Bingham, from Basildon, one of Steve Davis's regular sparring partners, led Fu 7-1 in the final but Fu won 11-10 and immediately caught a flight to get to Stockport just in time for pre-qualifying in the Embassy World Championship. He made 11 centuries in winning 10 rounds before his stamina gave out.

Last season, in one of its most constructive measures of recent years, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association set up Asia, Oceania, Americas, Africa/ Middle East and continental Europe satellite events to fast track the best overseas players to the world-ranking circuit. Some had to start in the first round of these 192-man events; the best six, which included Fu, were exempt until the fourth round.

Fu is such an outstanding talent that he would have secured the financial backing to come through any development system, much as Thailand's James Wattana did the better part of a decade ago.