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Fu and Ebdon Ebb and Flow
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Marco Fu is becoming snooker's marathon man after an attritional opening session of his semi-final with Peter Ebdon. Fu, bidding to become the first Asian player to reach the world final, had been involved in a 59-minute frame - the longest of the 2006 tournament - during a quarter-final win over Ken Doherty that spanned nearly nine hours.

It was a similar scenario against 2002 title holder Ebdon with the sixth frame in the best-of-33 contest lasting nearly 53 minutes. Fu showed he has the temperament for such battles by triumphing on both occasions and perhaps that is an indication of the influence on his game of former world champion and coach Terry Griffiths who was renowned for his patient approach. But a session of cagey, tight and sometimes tedious snooker ended with the contest locked at 4-4.

Whether Fu, a 125-1 outsider at the beginning of the event, can retain the high levels of concentration required against an experienced performer like Ebdon over four gruelling sessions will become evident over the next 48 hours.

Certainly Fu started to miss the sort of pots he has been making consistently during the past fortnight in the latter stages of the session. But Ebdon is a master of such confrontations and his methodical and sometimes ultra slow approach angered Ronnie Sullivan during their quarter-final meeting at Sheffield 12 months ago.

The initial exchanges of the opening frame set the tone with both players reluctant to take the slightest risk and, after the balls became awkwardly placed, a re-rack was agreed upon after a quarter of an hour's play.

Fu, who had ousted world number three Stephen Maguire and 1997 world champion Ken Doherty on his way to the last four, dominated the first frame proper and a run of 41 gave him the early ascendancy before missing an awkward red into the middle. Dubai-based Ebdon failed to convert a similar opportunity into the other middle bag and it was his last visit to the table as Fu put together an 81 clearance to claim first blood.

The 28-year-old was favourite to double his lead after a run of 54 in the next. But he was made to pay when missing a red into the black pocket when 55-20 ahead and Ebdon showed his class in negotiating a difficult red on the rail and an awkwardly placed final green with a decisive 56. He slipped behind for the second time when a scrappy third frame went Fu's way after a modest 25 left his opponent needing snookers. Ebdon was first among the balls in the final frame before the mid-session interval before breaking down on 42 after splitting the pack and not finding himself on a red.

Fu, who had a 100% record with his long-potting in the opening three frames, was unable to convert a red into the black pocket and Ebdon closed the frame out with his second half century of the match.

Breaks of 39 and 45 edged Ebdon in front for the first time in frame five but from there on play almost ground to a halt at times. The marathon sixth frame finally went in Fu's favour only for Ebdon to again reclaim the advantage in the next with the aid of an opening 48 and a 42 to the final black.

The final frame of the session was another long, drawn-out battle lasting 46 minutes before Fu's 25 to the final black means he will resume on Friday on level terms.

Two-times champion Ronnie Sullivan and Graeme Dott will contest the other semi-final in a re-run of their 2004 final.

(The Guardian via CRI English, April 28, 2006)

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