Byline: Phil Yates
A TINY, but vociferously loutish element did their best to unnerve Stephen Hendry in his Benson & Hedges Masters quarter-final at Wembley Conference Centre yesterday. They did not succeed, however, and Hendry recovered from a sluggish start to beat Jimmy White 6-4 in an absorbing encounter.
White is a sporting man and has always been appalled by such behaviour. He has a loyal army of fans but would be aghast if he won any match as a direct result of over-zealous shouts. The event sponsors, known for paying attention to every detail, are also aware of a small yob presence.
Jim Elkins, the tournament director, said that evictions had taken place and revealed that security had been increased by 50 per cent for the contest. The vast majority of the audience showed respect but, in what proved to be the closing frame, weird noises undoubtedly affected Hendry's concentration at the table.
Hendry, who complained privately about crowd behaviour last year, missed a potentially vital red on one occasion but eventually produced a 44 clearance to pink, under mounting pressure, to cross the line and secure a semi- final with Paul Hunter. His delight was obvious.
White led 3-1, despite a highest break of only 44, and was presented with a clear opportunity to move 4-1 ahead. He left a simple red in the jaws of a middle pocket, though, and Hendry, who has so often denied White on an important stage, launched a trademark fightback with a 45 clearance.
At 5-3, Hendry was poised to beat White for the fifth time in as many encounters at the Masters, but he did so only after a deciding frame had appeared probable. "I finished a lot stronger than I started and potted them when they mattered," Hendry, who refused to criticise the crowd, said.
A less partisan and smaller audience was on hand last night to witness a surprising, but deserved, 6-2 victory for Fergal O'Brien, the world No9, over Ken Doherty, his fellow Irishman, practice partner and good friend, who had been hoping for his second tournament win in as many weeks after his recent success in the Regal Welsh Open.
"Sometimes you can be on the crest of a wave, then at other times you can be brought down to earth," Doherty said. "With so many big seeds falling this week I thought it was going to be another big week, but I've got no option but to go off and lick my wounds."
O'Brien, who reserved his best performance of the season for Mark Williams, the world champion, in the previous round, did the bulk of the damage with an impeccable opening burst. Breaks of 84, 64 and 61 carried him 3-0 ahead as Doherty totalled only five points and potted three balls.
O'Brien is now guaranteed to receive at least Pounds 45,000 - his biggest payday since winning the British Open two years ago - and, of course, he retains the opportunity to become the most unexpected Masters winner since Perrie Mans, of South Africa, in 1979.
Reports that Ronnie O'Sullivan is to turn his back on the rebel tour proposed by The Sportsmasters Network (TSN) remained groundless yesterday, although O'Sullivan undoubtedly held discussions with the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), the sport's governing body.
Ian Doyle, O'Sullivan's manager and the chairman of TSN, said: "I'm surprised by the news and I'm particularly concerned at the amount of the membership's money the WPBSA is understood to be offering him." The actual figure is unknown, but should O'Sullivan defect it will be a severe blow to TSN's plans.
Copyright (C) The Times, 2001