Crucible Diary 2010: Hendry Fights Back to Take Day Two Epic

A 10-9 loss to Nigel Bond in 2006, a 10-9 victory from 9-7 down against Mark Allen in 2008 and now a 10-9 victory over Zhang Anda from 9-7 down in 2010 – being a Stephen Hendry fan at the Crucible has not been easy on the heart over the last few years!

Click below for my report from an epic second day at this year’s World Championship…

It feels like it was weeks ago now but I arrived at the venue nice and early today and despite nearly driving into Phil Yates at some traffic lights appeared to be well set for day two at the Crucible. That was however until I checked my pockets in front of the venue and realised that I had left my tickets at home, not so clever! Thankfully though the Crucible staff were able to reprint duplicates.

After that minor scare I headed on up for the resumption of the Allen/Ford match that had started the day before, though with Mark resuming 8-1 up I did not expect there to be too many frames before he got the two he needed to join John Higgins in the last 16.

Perhaps understandably however, Mark’s performance was somewhat flat and with nothing to lose, Tom was able to get in and play more like we know he can, unlike the previous day when his head noticeably dropped after a tough start. Crucially however Mark was able to take the third frame of the session to give himself a 9-4 advantage at the interval and it was only a matter of time before he wrapped up the victory with a classy run of 72.

Across the two sessions it was a very enjoyable match, played in very good spirit with the two continuing to exchange jokes today but despite Tom’s improved showing it was always going to be a very tall order to come back from 8-1 down. Mark though could be a real dark horse for this title, it will certainly take a strong performance to stop him this week…

Following that match I remained in the arena for the second half of the session between Marco Fu and Martin Gould. Both looked to be out of sorts, in particular Martin Gould who was missing a few balls unexpectedly but like Stephen Hendry yesterday, Marco struggled to ram home his advantage from 5-2 and allowed Martin to take the last two to finish just one behind at 5-4. Despite that run to victory in the Championship League therefore, I feel that Marco is not quite on his game at the moment and if Martin can get off to a good start tomorrow, I can see that match going the distance.

Without a ticket for the afternoon session today I chose to hang around the venue and watch a bit of the afternoon session on the big screen. Whilst doing so I managed to catch John Higgins on his own and grab a quick photo, as well as Ryan Day and Mark King. Also out and about were Liang Wenbo, Martin Gould (looking very dapper in his tailor made suit), Ian McCulloch and darts player Colin ‘Jaws’ Lloyd who had come along to watch.

Eventually however it was time for the main event as far as I was concerned today, the conclusion of the match between Stephen Hendry and Zhang Anda. As an aside I noticed that Rob Walker today introduced him as Zhang Anda but that referee Brendan Moore and the scoreboard in the arena still referred to him as Anda Zhang as on Saturday. At the World Championship qualifiers at the EISS however the scoreboard had his name the other way round as you can see on my image here. Hopefully the powers that be will clarify the correct way to say it by the time that he is back at a venue again! I think that Zhang Anda is right, though I may be wrong…

Anyway back to the action and following the walk-ons we were all set to see how Zhang would cope under the pressure of playing a seven times world champion to a finish at the Crucible and also how Hendry would respond to losing four of the last five frames yesterday. Early on the signs were good for Zhang as Hendry missed a few and looked to be quite anxious, but during frames 11 and 12 it was the Scot who began to dominate proceedings. Like at the start of the match, Stephen was playing a very tight game, preventing Zhang from coming to the table with an easy chance and leaving him on the back foot in the safety exchanges.

As was the case yesterday, this approach appeared to be paying dividends as Hendry stretched his lead to 7-5, but for whatever reason his scoring game was not quite there and he squandered a number of chances to take frame 13 and eventually lost it to head into the interval leading by just a single frame. Given how he had really controlled the session and could easily have been leading 9-4, Stephen must have been frustrated to have only split the four frames played and when the two resumed his struggles began to intensify.

Like during the first session, Zhang began to grow in confidence whilst Stephen became more and more anxious and soon fell behind in the match for the first time at 8-7. This soon became 9-7 and with the upset looming, it was noticeable that the press boxes were filling up, almost like the vultures were actually circling!

As a fan of Hendry, and one who always gets far too emotionally involved in these things, the situation was looking rather bleak at this time, as was the state of my nails which were frankly non-existent by this point. Stephen looked to be somewhat resigned and Zhang, incredibly for a man of his 18 years was showing absolutely no sign of the pressure that surely must have been upon him.

As had become the theme, the first chance in frame 17 came the way of the Chinese youngster but crucially a missed black on 25 proved to be the turning point as Hendry, having shown nothing for the past three frames, was out of his chair and suddenly produced a vintage ‘Hendry break’ of 89 to suddenly put himself right back into the frame.

From here Zhang did little wrong in truth but Stephen was a man transformed and could clearly sense blood following his opponent’s miss. A very nicely taken break of 52 in the 18th frame set up a decider and although he could not take it at his first opportunity, some strong safety play gave him another opportunity and frankly the Scot never looked like missing as he got over the line to take a dramatic victory.

At the end of the match Hendry just looked to be relieved as while he was visibly excited a couple of years ago having come back to defeat Mark Allen, also from 9-7 down, he was a I think very respectful to Zhang and said a few words to him at the end. Stephen will have to play at a much higher level that he did during this match if he is to cause Mark Selby any problems in his next match but as Clive Everton very accurately stated during commentary yesterday, with Stephen there is always a sense of possibility that I fear will never go away…

Whilst I was desperate for Hendry to win the match however, I have to say that given how he played I would not have begrudged Zhang victory in the slightest and have nothing but admiration for him after his performances this year in Sheffield. As those of you who read my report of his victory over Ricky Walden last month will be aware, I was incredibly impressed with Zhang’s temperament then and even more so now. For an 18-year-old to be so fearless and handle the occasion as well as he did is phenomenal and I honestly don’t think that I have ever seen a player with a temperament like his at such a young age before. Many had written him off pre-match and I myself was not sure that he would be able to reproduce the form that he had shown at the EISS, but after a tricky start he was able to do exactly that.

Unfortunately for him however he was up against the man with the best temperament that I have ever seen tonight and perhaps that experience was to count for Hendry in the end. Still though, Zhang will be back I am sure.

Leaving the arena as something of an emotional wreck, I headed over to a bar with a few stiff drinks…well, cokes if they count, before leaving at about 11:50pm to drive back to Hull.

Spare a thought though for referee Brendan Moore who was in action during the morning for Fu/Gould and then took charge of the Hendry/Zhang clash tonight. Long day!

Still, when the snooker is as exciting as it was tonight, it is worth every minute. Also one in the eye for those advocating shorter matches at the Crucible if you ask me…