Snooker: White lines up repeat of 1992 final

IF A MAN shows himself clearest in adversity, then Jimmy White has nothing to worry about. 'Stephen (Hendry) plays the game the way it should be played,' he said. 'He is a great and worthy champion.' The tribute came 12 months ago, an hour after White had suffered the most disappointing defeat of his life at the hands of the man he was praising.

Everything White has done since has been achieved with a reference to that night. To lead 14-8 in the Embassy World Championship final and then lose 18-14 throws a deep shadow over a man's career. It is a stain with implications of lack of backbone, a suggestion that a killer instinct is missing.

For a year White has been mulling over why he is not world champion. Last time was his fourth final and never had he been as close to claiming the prize he has coveted since he used to run away from school in Tooting to play snooker. Even when he arrived at The Crucible he was not sure what his reaction would be. 'I might not be able to cope. I don't know,' he said.

He is probably not sure even now. White has played in fits and starts at The Crucible over the last fortnight, suggesting that part of his brain is still affected by that defeat, and only once has he found his finest fluency. That came in the semi- final on Friday when he swept aside James Wattana, the 23-year-old Thai , with 12 successive frames.

White, when he is in that kind of mood, has an almost hypnotic intensity about him. His cue arm flows, he is bending down to take the next shot before the referee has time to replace the balls. One of the mistakes he made against Hendry, he says, was to increase his pace. Against Wattana, in the decisive part of the match, he was racing and it did not matter. You suspect if he tapped the same vein in again against Hendry he would happily accelerate away.

After the night before, yesterday was something of a formality. White, 14-8 up, had to win just two frames and he did so in 30 minutes with breaks of 44 and 66 for a 16-9 victory. 'I found my game against Wattana,' he said. 'I've been a bit patchy but I'm in the balls now, I've found my confidence.'

With reference to what happened 12 months ago, he added: 'A lot of players could not have come through what I did. I'm a great fan of Hendry's, I enjoy playing him and I know he enjoys playing me. I'm just delighted to be in the world championship final. I'm back playing. Set them up.'

The comments were made in the knowledge that the man he will face over the next two dayswould be Hendry. The Scot took his overnight advantage of 10-5 to 15-7 at the end of the morning session before adding the one he required to win 16-8 and make it a repeat of last year's final.

Hendry has been in such outstanding form at this tournament that it has been a novelty to see him having to pot a ball with even the slightest pressure on his cueing arm. McManus won the first two of yesterday's frames but was overwhelmedby his countryman. Hendry does not have the free- wheeling reputation of White, yet no one pots the ball better than him and few are more adventurous. It is his efficiency, the fact he rarely misses, that makes it look easy.

Yesterday he included a break of 110, his 33rd world championship century, a record for The Crucible. More pertinently, given that Hendry measures his achievements against Steve Davis, it put Hendry level with the former world champion with the record number of centuries, 203.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Sheffield): Semi-finals: J White (Eng) bt J Wattana (Thai) 16-9. Frame scores (White first): 37-71

21-68 24-80 36-77 10-83 71-39 60-1 0-93 88-15

64-7 69-45 62-25 104(104)-0 77-39 109(105)-0

71-50 100-24 69-0 92-8 64-24 52-70 14-83 58-71

73-15 67-1. S Hendry (Sco) bt A McManus (Sco) 16-8. Frame scores (Hendry first): 111-32 79-46 88-0 53-69 5-75 51-63 0-93 67-17 11-57 86-0 73-18 75-63 64-26 92-0 86-5 28-78 57-77 80-9 80-44

91-35 68-56 114(110)-6 32-64 94-30.