Snooker: The seven-up beckons Hendry

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN HENDRY'S iron will and steely temperament, allied to a technique restored to maximum efficiency after early season problems by hard practice and a renewed association with Frank Callan, the father of modern coaching, carried him to a 17-13 semi-final win over Ronnie O'Sullivan in the Embassy World Championship here in Sheffield.

Mark Williams, a 17-10 winner over the defending champion, John Higgins, stands between Hendry and the seventh world title on which he has set his heart to surpass Ray Reardon's six in the 1970s and Steve Davis's half dozen in the Nineties.

O'Sullivan's poor opening session on Thursday left him 6-2 adrift, reduced to 9-7 on Friday before his genius burst into full flower in the penultimate session yesterday morning when he came within a pink and black of a maximum 147 break, and a bonus of pounds 147,000 and added to this 134 a run of 110 to go to lunch level at 12-12. Had O'Sullivan not missed the tricky cut on the pink to the middle pockert he would have entered the history books as the only man two record two maximums at the Crucible.

"Tonight, I just didn't think I was going to miss a ball," said Hendry of the final session. "I withstood everything Ronnie threw at me. I can't play much better than that. But if I lose the final it will all be to no avail."

O'Sullivan led for the only time, 13-12, by taking the opening frame of the evening with a flying 70 and was first in in four of the five remaining frames but principally through losing position kept leaving Hendry chances for deadly counter-attacks.

Leads of 32-0, 38-0, 45-0 and 31-7 all turned to ashes as breaks of 75, 48, 78, 49, 50 and 86 assisted Hendry to the five-frame winning streak which carried him into the final.

Williams became the first Welsh finalist since Terry Griffiths in 1988 by completing a 17-10 win over the defending champion John Higgins.

"He played superb, the best anyone's ever played against me. There wasn't a lot I could do," said Higgins, whose week-in week-out consistency had assured him of remaining No 1 in the end-of-season rankings even before a ball was struck in snooker's 17-day marathon of the mind.

"I've done it to other people and when someone's at that level it can be intimidating," he added. Williams will become the first Welshman since Griffiths 20 years ago to hold the 72-year-old trophy aloft if he beats the revitalised Hendry over 35 frames.

No one will observe the two-day final with more interest than Kevin Bohn, a factory worker from Cwm, Williams's home village, who staked a week's wages, pounds 140, at 300-1 with Corals that Williams, then 14, would win the world title by 2000.

Williams, 24, has won six world-ranking titles, but his highest-profile coverage came from beating Hendry 10-9 on a tie-break black to win last year's Benson & Hedges.

Since then, he has added to his deadly long potting more precision and touch close in. Of the 82 centuries he has compiled in his seven-year professional career, 28 have been produced this season.

The key phase of his semi-final victory came in Friday evening's penultimate session when he shot away from 8-8 to 12-8, making breaks of 75, 60, 40 (a more valuable effort than the figure would suggest as pink and black were out of commission) and 90 as he restricted Higgins to a mere 28 points in this sequence.

Resuming 14-10 ahead, Williams went for the quick kill, which would give him maximum time to settle himself for the most important match of his life. He took the opening frame with a break of 84 and, with Higgins resigned to his fate, added the two unremarkable frames he needed.