Crucible Diary 2011: Day Three Blog

That’s why they call him ‘King of the Crucible’ – Stephen Hendry came through against Joe Perry today in another deciding frame finish to keep his hopes of staying inside the top 16 alive. Barry Hawkins meanwhile also edged a decider against Stephen Maguire to finally win his first match here…

Missing the morning, I arrived at the Crucible shortly ahead of the afternoon session today for the resumption of the clash between Stephen Hendry and Joe Perry, Hendry leading 6-3 overnight. Which Hendry would turn up today however? And also which Ronnie as the three-time world champion opened his campaign against Dominic Dale over on table two.

My eyes however were on the Hendry/Perry match and it did not disappoint as Joe did what he had to do and took the opening frame of the day with a break of 62, his second highest break of the match. The session was not to be one of heavy scoring however and many of the frames were to come down to the colours, something that undeniably favoured Joe as he added frames 11 and 12 to draw level at 6-6.

I have seen Stephen Hendry many times live during the past few years and even more on television, but it struck me sitting in the audience that I had never seen him look as edgy as he did today during the opening couple of frames. Yesterday, particularly after the interval he had moved around the table quite quickly and at times looked as confident as ever in the balls but today it was very different. In frame 11 he was in with a decent chance to win the frame after a Perry miss but for me appeared to be almost looking for a way to miss and created a problem that for me was not necessarily there.

With Perry building a lead in the final frame of the session I expect that Hendry would have been feeling even more nervous but from seemingly nowhere he then produced what I like to call a ‘Hendry clearance,’ to steal it and take a 7-6 lead into the break. By far his best break of the session, it came at a crucial time as Joe without scoring heavily, was comprehensively outplaying Stephen in the safety department and winning frames as a result.

When play got underway again the pattern was to be no different, Joe dominating the safety exchanges, finding the top cushion with regularity which Stephen for whatever reason struggled to do. Hendry however was just about able to keep his nose in front, some terrific long pots when under pressure getting him out of trouble on a few occasion while Joe missed some big pots at crucial times.

Eventually the match came down to an inevitable decider and with the action on the other table already completed, the players had the whole of the arena to themselves for what was to be another tense battle, indeed the frame itself was a fantastic summary of the match!

The early lead was built up by Hendry and it was telling to me that for the first time in the day, he found the baulk cushion with two safety shots which crucially forced the errors from Joe to let Stephen in the balls. There was to be another twist however as despite the balls having been in somewhat unpromising positions, Joe earned himself a chance to clear for the match and for a while it looked like he just might do it until he eventually came unstuck on the final brown. Both players missed chances at it but eventually it was to be Hendry who managed to pot it followed by the blue to secure a thrilling victory and a place in the last 16.

As readers will know, particularly those following my Twitter feed earlier today or those who read by Crucible Memories piece recently, Hendry is a favourite of mine so I wad delighted to see him come through another nailbiter (literally, they were gone by frame eight yesterday). Indeed having been at the Crucible for his 10-9 matches against Nigel Bond, Mark Allen and Zhang Anda in recent years I somehow had the feeling of deja vu!

As has been the subject of much discussion recently, the win lifts Hendry up five places to 15th in the provisional rankings at the time of writing and in with a chance of retaining his top 16 spot for another cut-off point. I must admit that for long parts of the afternoon I had the unshakeable feeling that this might be the last time that I see Hendry at the Crucible but he dug deep when it mattered and if that is to be his last win here then it was another nice entry in his Crucible scrap book. What was quite surreal is the fact that with both his break building and safety games below par today, his strongest suit was arguably his long game which you cannot often say about Hendry these days!

Next up for Stephen is potentially a tie with Mark Selby who of course thrashed the Scot 12 months ago at the same stage of the tournament. In reality I would not be surprised to see Mark win by a similar margin this time around but he has to get past Jimmy Robertson first of course, the second of this week’s débutantes. Back to Hendry however, he has since commented that he will have a big decision at the end of the season as to whether or not he continues to play on and has confirmed that he will not be competing in the PTC events next season, something which will certainly see him fall out of the top 16 if he has not done so already.

A word however for Joe Perry who must have been absolutely gutted to lose in that manner today, particularly as he was the better player for much of the session and could easily have won it but for a loose positional shot from green to brown when clearing up. Unfortunately however his break-building both today and yesterday was not really there and some crucial errors at critical times were to ultimately prove his undoing. Understandably he elected not to participate in his scheduled press conference, hopefully the powers that be will not choose to punish him for the bearing in mind the circumstances.

On the other table this afternoon meanwhile Ronnie O’Sullivan finished up with a commanding 7-2 lead against Dominic Dale, winning the final five frames of the session and coming close to a 147 at one stage before breaking down on 96. I could not see the table but by all accounts at 2-2 he was not looking at his best but from there improved to leave himself well placed to progress tomorrow afternoon.

Following a short trip to McDonalds for a celebratory Chicken Legend meal I re-entered the Crucible for what would be another dramatic match between Stephen Maguire and Barry Hawkins.

Resuming with a 6-3 lead, Barry will have been happy to head into the mid-session interval with his three frame advantage intact at 8-5 but from there could do little as Maguire upped his game considerably to level at 8-8. With the next two being shared, Barry could have been forgiven for getting that sinking feeling having lost a number of deciders here before.

Brilliantly however, Barry was to win it in one visit with a break of 92 and it was evident from his reaction that it meant the world to him to finally win a match at the Crucible at his sixth attempt.  His win actually reminded me somewhat of that in qualifying against Daniel Wells last year when again he led 6-3 heading into the final session before being forced into a decider which he eventually won in one visit. He might not have the best reputation here in deciders but I have seen enough evidence now to know that he has the bottle.

In the other match this evening Stuart Bingham won the last three of the session to lead Peter Ebdon 5-4 overnight, though where I was sat I could not see much of this. Judging by his comments on Twitter however, Stuart was very happy to come out of the session wit a 5-4 lead and it will be interesting to see whether he can convert it into a victory tomorrow.

Over tomorrow for the match between Marco Fu and Martin Gould in the morning. Should be another cracker.