Snooker: Wattana too hot for Fu in Asian battle

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JAMES WATTANA was the toast of Thailand after denying Far East rival Marco Fu a debut victory in the Embassy World Championship at The Crucible Theatre, in Sheffield, yesterday.

The unofficial all-Asian title was at stake as well as a place against Stephen Hendry or Paul Hunter in the last 16 of the pounds 1.4m event. "It was the worst possible draw for me," admitted Wattana after beating his Hong Kong rival 10-8. "But this result is just what I needed. I haven't felt as good and able to perform under pressure for a long time. Marco is such a great player, and had I not been right mentally I could easily have lost."

Wattana began as the underdog despite two appearances in the last four of the world championship. Fu, the world No 377, was making his Crucible debut after winning four qualifying matches.

Wattana, the No 15 seed, who is threatened with relegation from the top 16 next season, was 8-7 behind before he rallied with a break of 62 to level at 8-8 and then made a 136 clearance for 9-8.

The 18th frame was easily the longest of the match. Wattana compiled an opening 40 break and by taking the last red he left Fu needing all the colours to force a re-spot. Fu, this season's Grand Prix runner-up, could only leave a free ball while escaping from a snooker behind the black and victory went to Wattana.

It was relief for Wattana, whose first-round matches during the last three seasons have only been settled by a deciding 19th frame, but he must still reach the final on 2 May if he is to retain his top 16 status.

"It's the worst possible way to end my season," said Fu. "If I could have won the 16th frame I might have won the match, but I made an elementary mistake on a safety shot. I felt nervous at the start but I managed to settle down. However, I still didn't feel comfortable out there because my cue action is not great at the moment."

Joe Perry is on the verge of a major upset as he takes a 7-2 lead over Steve Davis into this morning's session. The Wisbech-based Perry, the world No 74, needs just three of the remaining 10 frames to take his place alongside the first-round giant-killers Nick Walker, Matthew Stevens and Chris Small. Perry turned professional in 1992 the year, Davis suffered a shock first-round exit against the then pony-tailed Peter Ebdon. And in 1995 Davis was beaten 10-7 at this stage by Andy Hicks.

Mark King is through to round two after a 10-8 win over Darren Morgan. The world No. 16 fought back from 8-6 down to set up a meeting with the defending champion, John Higgins.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Sheffield) Today's games, morning session (10.00): A McManus (Sco) v J White (Eng); S Davis (Eng) v J Perry (Eng). Afternoon session (14.00): S Lee (Eng) v J Lardner (Sco); S Hendry (Sco) v P Hunter (Eng). Evening session (19.00): R O'Sullivan (Eng) v L Fernandez (Rep Irl).