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    Snooker | Jimmy White | Northern Ireland Open


    Just when you might be wondering if snooker’s Whirlwind might finally be all blown out, the evergreen ducker and diver from London town that is Jimmy White comes up with something to remind the faithful that there is life in the old Artful Dodger yet. And this time it was done with the help of his Tommy, taking a year out from work to come on the road with his much-loved dad.

    Now 60, White is in the second year of his latest two-season tour wildcard. These have been awarded for his services to the game, a sport where he still continues to put more bums on seats in exhibitions and increasingly rare appearances at the latter stages of ranking tournaments than many of today’s serial winners.

    The boy-ish enthusiasm for the game has never dimmed, and that in itself is remarkable. For a player of White’s rare abilities and talents, the fact that the ‘People’s Champion’ never won the big one – the World Championship at the Crucible – having lost six finals in Sheffield, would have seen lesser men eaten up by bitterness. But it was just not White’s way, or chosen path.

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    Despite being endlessly asked about his ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ tag, and regular nemesis Stephen Hendry, when he came to snooker’s greatest prize, he has somehow managed to retain his sense of humor and a passion that was there from schooldays that saw schoolteachers let him off lessons to hone his skills in a Tooting club.

    And the character and skills that earned him an often forgotten 10 ranking titles plus a Masters success were on full display in a stunning win over the highly-rated 22-year-old Chinese player Yuan Sijun on Thursday, as White knocked in a superb break of 132 in the decider for a 4-3 victory to clinch a place in the final stages of the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast in October.

    That city also holds a special significance for White, the stomping ground of the late two-time world champion Alex Higgins – who passed on the ‘People’s Champion’ mantle to his great friend, and revolutionized the game both in terms of how many started to play it, and how it was viewed by the wider media as he put it on back and front pages with brilliance and off-table antics.

    White’s punditry duties with Eurosport will have to take a back seat at the Waterfront Hall as he is left to focus on at least one opponent in the tournament, in the event won by home hero Mark Allen last season.

    White said: β€œI have got my son Tommy working with me getting the balls out for me – and so instead of just doing an hour and a half practice, he is making me do my four hours. He has had a year off work and has decided to come with me on the tour until the World Championships next April.

    β€œWe go walking up on the Epsom Downs at home, it helps me get up and do that with him, but mainly to get on the practice table and do proper practice. And absolutely he has a go at me when I miss!

    β€œI played a good frame at the start and won that with a good clearance. But after that I didn’t really get a shot to go 3-1 down.

    β€œThen clearly to make that big century to win the match, I was absolutely delighted with that. When you are not getting any victories it becomes much harder to get over the line so hopefully I can move forward from there. I played Anthony Hamilton recently in the British Open qualifiers and didn’t play well at all. It is all about confidence this game, and if you start to win…players that win consistently under pressure are the ones that keep winning.

    β€œI have been going to the Waterfront in Belfast from back when the great, late Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins was still with us. I played many exhibitions against Alex there, plus tournaments, and I would say it is one of the top five venues that we play at. There is always a great atmosphere.

    β€œI was due to be going there anyway to work for Eurosport, so to win this match and be going to play in it as well, I am absolutely delighted.”

    Meanwhile the British Open first-round draw threw up an embarrassing tie as WPBSA board member Peter Lines was again paired with China’s Xiao Guodong. Leeds’ Lines, 52, was fined earlier this year over an incident at last season’s Northern Ireland Open qualifiers at which, after losing 4-3, he accused Guodong of cheating, and had to be removed by security after offering him outside for a fight .

    Surprisingly Lines kept his place on the board, but he was fined Β£2,500 plus a further Β£5,500 costs. The flashpoint occurred over an alleged ‘mis-placed balls’ incident during the match, from which Guodong was cleared of any blame.

    *18+ | BeGambleAware



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