Jimmy White faces a struggle today to stay in the Embassy World Championship in Sheffield, in which the six-times Crucible runner-up must overturn a 6-3 deficit in his best-of-19 first-round match against James Wattana.
Two shots towards the end of yesterday's session summed up the out-of-form White's luck. He showed plenty of resilience to come back to 4-3 from 4-0 down before disaster struck. Clearing up to obtain parity at 4-4, White suffered a 'kick' as he tried to pot the final pink. Wattana accepted the unexpected lifeline and knocked in the pink and black to lead 5-3.
White, who prevented his Bangkok-born rival from reaching the 1993 final, should then have won frame nine. His break of 55 was the highest of a nervous session and he should have gone on to put the outcome beyond doubt. Instead he missed a simple red and Wattana stepped in with a superb 64 clearance to take the frame. Defeat for White would mean he drops out of the top 16 for next season and would have to qualify to reach the final stages of the 2004 World Championship.
Joe Swail and Tony Drago raced through the opening nine-frame session of their first-round match in only two hours 19 minutes. The Welsh referee, Eirian Williams, had problems keeping pace in the early stages as Drago sprinted into a 4-0 lead.
The 37-year-old took only 48 minutes to claim the opening four frames with runs of 44, 76, 74 and 39. His average shot time was only 11 seconds.
Swail, a semi-finalist twice in the last three years, was ripe for an upset after a poor season. He has dropped from 16th to 24th in the rankings and only salvaged some confidence by reaching the quarter-finals of the Scottish Open.
However, the Crucible clearly brings the best out of him and the former English Amateur champion from Belfast rallied to trail only 5-4 at close of play.
Matthew Stevens rekindled his affair with the Crucible yesterday but Chris Small looks as though he will soon be divorced from the tournament. The 2000 world finalist resumes today with a 7-2 lead over the LG Cup champion from Edinburgh.
Even though Small will not go down without a fight, it is hard to see him preventing his Welsh opponent reaching his victory target. Stevens, who has not suffered a first-round defeat since 1997, made the perfect start by taking the opening three frames helped by runs of 93 and 71.
Small finally got on the board in frame four, but Stevens then went on to win a couple of scrappy frames to lead 5-1. His opponent compiled a break of 92 to take the seventh frame, but it was to be his last success of the session.
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