Stevens puts on show at Crucible

The Crucible Theatre always seems to bring the best out of Welshman Matthew Stevens.

The Crucible Theatre always seems to bring the best out of Welshman Matthew Stevens.

And the Sheffield venue was again inspiring Stevens this morning as he opened his 2003 Embassy World Championship campaign against Chris Small.

The Carmarthen-based player has only reached one ranking tournament quarter-final this season – the Irish Masters in Dublin last month.

For a player of his pedigree that is a poor return. However, the old Crucible magic appeared to be working again as the world number eight established a 3-0 lead over Scot Chris Small.

Stevens has lost in the Embassy semi-finals for the past two seasons but only after memorable matches against John Higgins and Peter Ebdon.

In 2000 he reached the final but found compatriot Mark Williams too strong in a match that all-but went the distance.

And since losing to Andy Hicks in the opening round six years ago Stevens has also posted two other quarter-final appearances.

No wonder he was glad to be back at his most profitable stamping ground.

Small, a winner of the LG Cup in Preston last October, had promised to make it as tough as possible.

And with an outside chance of the top 16 the 29-year-old Scot still has plenty to play for.

But for the first 43 minutes it was all Stevens, much to the delight of several punters who have wagered £5,000 (€7,183) each on him to beat Small at odds of 5-2 on.

A break of 93 gave him the first frame and he followed up with 71 to go 2-0 in front.

Small’s only points in frame three came from a five-point penalty as Stevens moved 3-0 clear.

However, Small stopped the rot in the final frame before the mid-session interval to make it 3-1.

They face another five frames when the match resumes and then come back tomorrow to conclude proceedings.

The winner will play British Open champion Paul Hunter or Essex qualifier Ali Carter for a place in the quarter-finals.

Alan McManus and Nigel Bond were moving inexorably towards an unscheduled third session tonight.

They managed to complete only five of their opening nine frames yesterday with Glaswegian McManus taking a 5-1 lead.

And while Stevens and Small ’raced’ through four frames, McManus and 1995 finalist Bond dawdled through just two more.

World number 15 McManus leads 6-2 but at the current rate of progress it seems unlikely he will get to 10 before the game will have to make way for the afternoon session.

And that will entail them completing the remaining frames this evening.

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