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DAVIS SET TO STEP INTO EARL'S COURT.

IF there were two matches that would finally get the British public to appreciate how good nine-ball pool is, then a couple of today's clashes at the World Championships at Cardiff International Arena provide the proof.

Both matches could have been the final itself, but they form two of the last 16 games this year.

Those in the know around the arena have reckoned all week that six-time world snooker champion Steve Davis has his best chance of becoming a global title holder in two different cue sport disciplines.

Davis has been in tremendous form so far, and his victory over Japan's Kunihiko Takahashi - the 1998 world champion - just added another notch on his cue stick which has already included the names of past global kings like Efren Reyes and Ralf Souquet.

Tonight, however, he faces the reigning champion, American Earl 'The Pearl' Strickland.

The pair are best of friends off the table, but all that will go out of the window for an hour or so.

Davis beat Takahashi 9-3, while Strickland earned an identical victory against another Japanese player, Haruyoshi Hinokiyama, to set up their clash.

The Englishman said: 'This one will be a real bun fight, and I've just got to make sure I hit him with more buns than he hits me with.

'Earl is an absolute quality player and it will be a pleasure to play against him. He's more than capable of running racks than almost any other player, and I have to play really well to beat him.

'I enjoyed the match against Takahashi as it was a real scrap. You're never in control in nine-ball, even when you're 8-2 up in a race to nine.

'If you make a weak break or miss a ball, you can let the other guy back in and find yourself sitting in your chair for long periods.

'The crowd will be well up for it and, as far as nine-ball goes, this one will be a real event.'

If that is the main course for dinner, then the afternoon tea offering is just as tasty.

Filipino pair Reyes and Francisco Bustamante are like brothers. Reyes, the 1999 world champion, is such a legend of nine-ball pool that every competitor at this year's tournament, without exception, puts him down as their favourite player.

Bustamante is Reyes' prodigy and was runner-up in Cardiff 12 months ago to Strickland.

And, just to emphasis the enormity of this match, it will be shown live on television in Manila with the country coming to a standstill while it is on - at about 8pm their time.

Bustamante said: 'Millions and millions of people will watch this game between Efren and myself, and we will be disappointed because we will be playing each other only in the last 16.

'It will be difficult if I win because Efren has been my friend for 10 years.'

Malta's snooker ace Tony Drago has come on leaps and bounds in this year's event and, after beating American Danny Harriman 9-4 yesterday, he faces Young-hwa Jeong, recognised as Korea's best player.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 18, 2003
Words:514
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