Snooker: Wattana brings best out of Hendry

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The Independent Online
Stephen Hendry had to draw on dwindling mental reserves to hold off James Wattana 17-13 to reach the best of 35 frames final of the Embassy World Championship at the Crucible, against Ken Doherty, the Republic of Ireland's first finalist, starting this morning.

Having won five titles, helped Scotland win the World Cup and been involved in the latter stages of most other events in an intensive seven-month campaign, Hendry's excellence here has been spasmodic rather than sustained, although he was always able to raise his game when necessary in beating Andy Hicks 10-6, Mark Williams 13-8 from 8-8 and Darren Morgan 13-10.

From 7-3 on Friday afternoon, Hendry lost concentration and four of the day's five remaining frames. Yesterday morning he was sharply focused as frame winners of 78, 66 (from 0-53), 70 and 63 put him ahead 12-8.

Wattana, who in the last fortnight has played more like the world No3 he was four years ago, rather than the struggler trying to retain his top 16 status he has been for the last two seasons, halved his deficit with runs of 77 and 75 but Hendry managed to respond to gathering danger by winning the remaining two frames before lunch with a decisive 55 and a last two reds to blue clearance respectively.

Thailand's No 1 made a fine effort in the evening session, splitting the first two frames and securing the next two with breaks of 76 and 70 as he closed to 13-15. His early safety play in the following frame posed fiendish difficulty for Hendry, who could appreciate all too clearly the potential for Wattana to reduce his arrears to a single frame. With no alternative but to attempt a desperately difficult red from tight on the baulk cushion, Hendry missed, but fluked another and cleared with 114 to go three up with four to play.

Wattana, who had thrilled a 20 million audience viewing the match live in Thailand - and a sizeable British one too - missed a routine red to a middle pocket on 40 in what proved to be the last frame. Hendry replied with 55 and after a gripping 21-shot duel on the blue potted it and the pink to carry his attempt to win a seventh title in eight years into the final.

Doherty, meanwhile, earned yesterday off by beating the Canadian No 1, Alain Robidoux, 17-7 with a session to spare. Since turning professional seven years ago Doherty has won the Welsh Open, two Scottish Masters and last season's European League. But at the age of 27 this is not a large collection of titles for a world No 7.

Only in the Republic of Ireland's dramatic 10-9 semi-final win over England in the World Cup in Bangkok last November did he appear to forge a full alliance of passion and inspiration to his fine natural technique.

In his easy-going way he was earning pots of money - he is one of 13 cueists who have amassed more than pounds 1m in prize money - but has not fulfilled his potential. His manager, Ian Doyle, does not allow his players to forget the work ethic. "Ken's a good lad, not a drinker, not one for late nights but he could sleep for Ireland," he said.

Doyle, determined that his charge should not continue as snooker's answer to Burlington Bertie, gave him "a good coating", and let the Irish newspapers know why.

"Maybe Ian did have a point," said Doherty, who came over to Ilford three weeks before the championship to practise seven hours a day with Ronnie O'Sullivan, who departed from Sheffield a week ago with his second-round loser's cheque for pounds 16,800 and the expectation of a further pounds 165,000 for his first-round maximum unless it is equalled in the next two days.