Snooker: Wattana's mind game

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The Independent Online
Give James Wattana his full title and your tongue needs a rest. His non-Anglicised name is Wattana Pu Ob Orm for a start, while it goes on (deep breath) to include Commander third class of the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand. It is a mouthful which makes Stephen Hendry MBE seem positively puny.

Achievements speak louder than words, no matter how many and how grand, however, and those of the six-times winner of the Embassy World Championship shout louder than anyone else's. Yet whether Hendry will make it to a seventh title is in doubt as he and Wattana are evenly poised in their semi-final.

Yesterday, Hendry frequently threatened to turn his overnight 5-3 lead into an insuperable margin, but the day's play finished at 8-8.

The reigning champion will be kicking himself, for he is desperate for a seventh crown that would push him beyond Steve Davis and Ray Reardon as winner of the most modern day world titles. Wattana, on the other hand, craves to escape from the list of nearly men.

The world amateur champion in 1988, the 27-year-old Wattana, who plays in the West under an identity which makes pronunciation easier for Europeans, has just three ranking tournaments to his name.

"There's not much difference in ability," Wattana said, comparing himself with Hendry, "it's in the mind. That's why Stephen has been No 1 for so long. My mind is getting better."

Not by so much, though, that you would notice. During his quarter-final against John Parrott, Wattana tried some outrageous shots that had the watching Hendry shaking his head at the bravery and foolhardiness. If the audacious shots work, fine. If they do not, players with merciless precision pick him off.

Wait long enough with Wattana, who admits to having a problem with his concentration, and a mistake usually happens, which summed up the first two frames yesterday.

The Thai, whose nickname ought to be "Rash" rather than "Typhoon", made the initial break only to be buried by Hendry. The word landslide was in vogue yesterday and Wattana understood its meaning better than most.

Those two frames gave Hendry a 7-3 lead, which, with a winning target of 17, had the organisers fearing that tonight's session would be superfluous. But with Wattana on the ropes, Hendry lost his punch.

Shot after shot was squandered and, suddenly, Wattana had the mental equivalent of a cold sponge on his face. Four out of five frames went to the Thai before the last frame fell into his lap via a fluke. Ahead 54-42, he aimed a yellow into the bottom corner only to see it vibrate in the jaws before rolling along the cushion into another pocket.

"I've had bad luck for two years and I've not said anything," he said after beating Parrott. "You have to accept the run of the balls." Today he will happily accept anything fate throws his way.