Tuesday 20 February 2018

Snooker: Crucible becoming a theatre of dreams

Steve Davis acknowledges the standing ovation after his dramatic victory over defending champion John Higgins in the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Photo: PA
Steve Davis acknowledges the standing ovation after his dramatic victory over defending champion John Higgins in the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Photo: PA

Nigel Whittaker

More than two decades after winning the last of his six World Championships, the evergreen Steve Davis is into the quarter-finals and fearing nobody after his stunning defeat of the defending champion, John Higgins.

Nobody gave Davis (52) any chance of knocking out the Scot, who along with Ronnie O'Sullivan came in as the favourite in the game's showpiece event. But they weren't reckoning on Davis and a steely competitiveness which has evidently not been dulled by the 21 years since he last lifted the crown.

In an epic which at the very least triggered the memories of his nail-wrecking success in the 1985 final against Dennis Taylor -- one of the best-watched events in the history of British sport -- Higgins fought back from 9-7 and then 11-9 down to level it.

But Davis used all his experience to prevail 13-11 and so record perhaps the greatest shock in the 33 years of the World Championship.

Davis is the oldest player to make the last eight since 1983, when the 53-year-old Eddie Charlton achieved the same feat.

Tomorrow the six-time former champion attempts to emulate the age-defying achievement of Fred Davies who made the semi-finals as a 64-year-old.

Davis faces the Australian Neil Robertson, the 28-year-old who wasn't even alive when his opponent first won the championship in 1981.

But such was the old man's display against Higgins that many are tipping him to avenge his 10-2 drubbing at the hands of Robertson last year and so continue his dream trip back down memory baize.

For Davis, however, his progression so far is the stuff of fantasies. He had to qualify for the tournament, but the fact that he managed to was a surprise in itself after the times he did play on the circuit ended in anti-climax. Davis appears mostly on the BBC as a pundit than a player and clearly expected to be back in the booth by now.

"Obviously winning this event is massive but in terms of individual performances and pride of performance, this victory over John has got to be so much up there,'' he said.

"Until I potted the final pink and held myself together while I was shaking like a leaf, perhaps I didn't believe it was going to happen.

"I was wobbling like anything. It was awful. How it went in, I don't know. It's just ridiculous.

"I always thought he was going to win the match -- we've seen John pull it out of the fire so often I thought he was going to do it again. Somehow I dragged up some pots. It used up everything. I'm glad I've got a couple of days off.''

While Sheffield is abuzz at the Nugget's resurrection and is talking of him going one better than Tom Watson, the golfer who at 59 lost in a play-off to Stewart Cink at last year's British Open, the veteran himself is not prepared to go there.

"I am not looking that far,'' he said. "It is one round at a time, one frame at a time, one ball at a time. It's just another match, that is the only way I can look at it. Neil smashed me up here last year. I don't want to look any further. I have got a couple of days off then I am back again, and it is business as usual.''

His form here has convinced Davis that he may still have a future as a full-time player. He revealed that a message from a fan on his website helped him rediscover a touch the majority believed had been lost forever.

"A gentleman emailed me and said I was moving my head on the shot, and he was right,'' he explained.

"Sometimes you miss the obvious things and in the build-up all I've been doing is concentrating on keeping my head still. Under enough pressure other parts of your body move and perhaps your cue, and it's worked.''

Ronnie O'Sullivan set up a nine-frame shoot-out with Mark Williams today to decide the battle of the former champions at the Crucible. Williams let an 8-6 lead slip away as a fast-paced match reached an 8-8 deadlock at the end of yesterday's second session.

Irish Independent

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