Snooker: World Snooker Championship final - Hendry on target to make history

Williams stays relaxed and limits early damage
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The Independent Online
WHEN STEPHEN HENDRY says he is not bothered by the money he means it. He would forgo the pounds 230,000 on offer for winning the Embassy World Championship for one thing: proof he is the finest player to wield a snooker cue.

Last night he seemed set fair to achieve that as he took a 10-6 lead over Mark Williams and is eight frames away from winning his seventh world title and breaking all modern records.

Hendry, Steve Davis and Ray Reardon are locked together with six world championships and the reason why the first still practises for six hours a day is to push him beyond the others. Today he could well get there.

It was not vintage Hendry - there were too many mistakes for that - and Williams had two sessions that he will not remember with any fondness, but with the prize he has craved ever since he began knocking off Davis' records so close he will not care. Small breaks, scruffy play will not matter as long as he lifts the trophy tonight.

If he does it will be some comeback for a player who appeared to be in terminal decline when he lost 9-0 to Marcus Campbell in the first round of the UK Championships six months ago. Indeed he could have been further ahead this morning because the morning session he took 5-3 yesterday could easily have been 7-1 in his favour.

Ahead 4-0, the Scot had chances in the seventh and eighth frames only to lose the the fluency of the earlier play and Williams hit back with breaks of 44 and 86 to limit the damage. William Hague, visiting the Crucible on a break from his troubles with the Conservative Party, was not the only frustrated leader as he met the finalists between sessions.

After Hendry had beaten Ronnie O'Sullivan 17-13 in their semi-final, the latter had wondered whether the six-times champion was the force he used to be. "I don't think Stephen is the player he was," O'Sullivan said. "If you put him under pressure he goes."

Well the pressure does not get more intense than a world final and there was little sense of frailty. In the first frame Williams, fluent and seemingly unflustered, was 47-6 up but Hendry pinched it with a break of 62.

In the next, Hendry rattled in a 98 and after a scrappy third the chances of Williams becoming the first Welshman to win the world title since Terry Griffiths in 1979 seemed to be evaporating when his opponent overtook a 60-0 deficit with a 77.

Williams, who is in his first world championship final, needed the mid- session interval with the urgency of a headache sufferer pursuing aspirin. He had to turn the torrent raging against him and with breaks of 47 and 28 he at last interrupted Hendry's dominance.

At 5-3 Hendry had reason to believe the scoreline did not do justice to his superiority but he soon put that right in the evening. Breaks of 77 and 76 put him 7-3 ahead and when Williams countered his riposte was a 132.

Williams came again but as fortune deserted the Welshman, Hendry pushed on from 8-6 to maintain a four-frame lead with visits to the table of 41 and 92.

Williams was suffering yet his arrival in the final would have been a surprise to himself 12 months ago when he left the tournament telling his manager, Ian Doyle, that he would never win at the Crucible. He did not like the venue and his defeat by Ken Doherty in the semi-finals after he had led by four frames did little to change his mind.

Doyle's response was not printable but the gist was that the 24-year- old Welshman would be wasting his talent if he maintained that view. Williams could have rebelled, instead he knuckled down to even more work and the rewards in the shape of three ranking tournament victories have followed.

Even so it requires a different discipline to do well in the world championship and in his case it has been a more phlegmatic attitude. "I think the key to my success is being relaxed," he said after beating John Higgins in the semi-finals. "If you don't worry, you're not so tense and you can play your best."

He will need to if he is to rein in Hendry today.

EMBASSY WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Sheffield) Final, latest position: S Hendry (Sco) leads M Williams (Wal) 10-6. Frame scores (Hendry first): 82-47, 120-6, 51-16, 77-60, 0-75, 101-16, 16-73, 24-92, 77-24, 76-15, 20-65, 133(132 break)-4, 49-75, 30-67, 64-22, 100-23.

Match resumes 3pm today.

Snooker nuts, page 9