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  Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 21:58 GMT
Hunter rises as Hendry falters
Paul Hunter
At 22, Hunter's best years are ahead of him
BBC Sport's Clive Everton wonders whether rising star Paul Hunter is passing Stephen Hendry going in the other direction.

"If I'd pottted a quarter of the long balls I had a chance to I'd have won," said Stephen Hendry after his 6-4 defeat by Paul Hunter in the Benson and Hedges Masters semi-finals at Wembley.

It is five years since he won his sixth Masters title and 17 months since he won a significant title of any descripton.

Even in his prime, he never won high percentage of scrappy frames. Normally , there are compensations in experience and tactical play as a player loses some of his instinctive potting ability.

But in Hendry's case this has not happened. His percentage of wins in the more fragmentary frames is no higher than it has ever been.

Of course, Hendry might pitch up at a tournament soon and, as if a light switches on in his mind, play just as he did in dominating the 90s.

Struggling

But the longer he goes without a title the more his self-doubt will tend to grow.

Hunter is, at 22, 10 years younger, and on the way up just as the 32-year-old Hendry is struggling to resist decline.

Five years ago, Hendry trailed him 5-3 in their UK Championship quarter-final before recovering to win 9-5.

"He's got the temperament, and he's got the game," he said at the time. So he had.

Stephen Hendry
Hendry: 17 months since his last signficant title
At 17, Hunter was a Regal Welsh Open semi-finalist. At 19 he won it.

But even then, he did not make the impact of which he was capable until he resolved to be more professional in his preparation and cut down on his late-night carousing.

In the first five of the season's eight world ranking Hunter reached a final, a semi, and two quarters.

Im consecutive matches in the China Open, his mood orf inspiration was such that he won them by a combined tally of 10 frames to nil, and 927 points to 80.

At Wembley, he beat the defending champion Matthew Stevens and Peter Ebdon before tackling Hendry.

Confident and fluent, he produced equalising breaks of 101 and 99 when he fell 2-1 and 3-2 behind, led 4-3 and from 4-4 went one up with two to play by accounting for the ninth with runs of 60 and 65.

When the 10th frame came down to a fight on the colours he did have a slice of luck in getting over the line, flying the green at an unlikely angle to a middle pocket.

He then went on to add the other colours he needed to guarantee 88,000, with a shot at the 175,000 first prize.

It was, though, a combination of Hunter's qualities and Hendry's deficiencies.

In particular his inability to sink the initial long pot which so often sets up a frame-winning break which had left the seven-times world champion on the precipice of defeat.

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