Snooker: White in the pink

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The Independent Online
THERE was a time when life did not seem to leave a mark on Jimmy White. There were none of the physical ravages that usually punish those who believe that excess is not enough, and there was no reining in of a talent that turned even his most accomplished rivals emerald with envy.

Not any more. Instead of the cue-thin frame there is now a rounded stomach reminiscent of a prosperous town burgher; where there used to be a thick black mane there are signs of balding. White is no longer the teenage genius seemingly destined to be world champion but a man fighting off middle age and disappointment.

The charmed existence seems to have ended, too. It was a bruised and battered world No 3 who appeared at the Royal Liver Assurance UK Championships at Preston's Guild Hall yesterday, his face still recovering from a pre-tournament accident which he says occurred when he was tugged into a tree by his pet Staffordshire bull-terrier. Those scars are healing; internally the damage may be more permanent.

The 31-year-old Londoner has had an undistinguished season, a hangover from the world championships in May when he suffered his fourth defeat in the final, an 18-5 thrashing by Stephen Hendry.

White still strikes a devil- may-care attitude for the public, but you wonder whether he still believes it himself. Every season it is harder to make an assault on the game's top prizes and White sometimes looks as if it is becoming too hard. The description 'the finest snooker player never to win the world title' is beginning to carry the ring of an epitaph.

Yesterday, however, defending the one crown he holds, White had one of his better days, against Darren Morgan, a Welshman four years his junior, in the third round. After an opening salvo of 65, he improved as the session wore on, finishing with breaks of 109 and 84 to establish a 6-2 lead he will carry into this afternoon's conclusion. 'I need to start matches like I finished today,' he said before committing himself to an evening's practice with the youngster he calls 'the whizz- kid', 17-year-old Ronnie O'Sullivan.

'He's what the game needs,' White said. 'A breath of fresh air. He makes me feel old.' Others used to say the same about him once.