A rare blend of adventure and enterprise

AN outsider before the start of this year's Embassy World snooker championship, few would have backed Peter Ebdon, the 31-year-old cueist from Wellingborough in Northampton, to capture his first world title and with it a cheque for pounds 260,000.

Yet, the World No. 7, who fights with grit, is convinced about his own ability and greatness as a player and has a record of exhibiting his emotion by punching the air with clenched fists and loud self-motivating screams, as he found the humour to say, "I have been playing snooker for 16 years and I have always wanted to win the world title. Maybe I am a slow learner."

Any victory over Stephen Hendry, inarguably the finest exponents of the 22-ball game, can be a mentally draining process. An 18-17 verdict after two exhaustive days of nerve-wracking drama could only leave any player completely drained.

Ebdon required all the reserves of mental and physical stamina for the title victory. In the semi-final he had a 17-16 win against Mathew Stevens, the game's upcoming talent from Wales, who had reached the final last year.

Recognising the need for stamina, Ebdon had gone on a strict exercise regime for the last 12 months which included working out in the gym and swimming up to a mile a day. The gaunt look and athletic muscle-toned body sported by Ebdon would have made a marathon runner proud. "I felt fine after the semi-final - the physical work I have been doing really paid off. I have lost two stone in the past six weeks. I have a great team behind me and we have worked really hard on the technical and psychological side of the game."

Ebdon's initiation into becoming a world champion commenced when he won the world under-21 snooker championship 12 years ago. He soon joined the professional circuit through a then tough system of qualification where eight outstanding cueists were allowed into the pro-circuit every year - the system was opened up one year after Ebdon turned professional.

In his very first year as a professional in 1991, he surprised one and all with an unlikely 10-2 first round victory over Steve Davis, the World No. 1 and at the time the undisputed king of the green baize. For Davis and the snooker world, it was the most shocking result ever since he became No. 1 in the rankings in the early Eighties. Yet, Ebdon behaved as if it was the most natural outcome. He was so convinced of his ability even at that time and despite being unable to actually win the world title till this year, he has insisted with unerring conviction that he is as good as the best player in the world.

Followers of the game and his opponents have treated Ebdon with a great deal of respect ever since he defeated Steve Davis as a rookie. Over the years, he climbed steadily into the top eight in the world ranking winning five world-ranking tournaments along the way. But whenever he got the opportunity he would insist that he would win the world title. So when he lifted the trophy in the early hours of the morning, which saw 7.5 million viewers glued to their TV sets, there was only admiration for this wonderfully obsessed personality.

He has displayed a rare blend of adventure and enterprise throughout the last decade. The man who commenced his career sporting a neatly tied and long pony tail, soon became the glitz king of modern snooker when he started a trend of jazzy silver and gold brocade waist coats. He then took out his own record and even though the album did not sell a million copies, it was a good effort from him. In his spare time he breeds race horses.

All throughout the one constant companion for him has been his intensity. For sheer conviction and for self-belief there is no second to the 2002 world champion. When he is on the table, nothing but nothing can dilute his concentration. It is this intensity, which was instrumental in his first public and perhaps not liked outburst when he raised his hands and screamed loudly after winning a frame from an almost impossible position.

This was in 1997 and his opponent was Darren Morgan at the time. But this soon became a habit and a much talked about trait - not really a norm in a game which is played wearing bow ties and in the stillness of an environment where there is neither movement nor sound.

However, he always gives credit where it is due. Five years ago, when he lost to Hendry in the final, he said, "One day I will tell my grandchildren that I had the privilege and honour of playing against the greatest player of all time." This year he was equally vocal in his praise about the seven-time world champion, saying, "Stephen played some awesome snooker in the first session today and I hardly got a shot. He has given me so many pastings in the past - he's an incredible player.

"I always give it everything but I thought I had blown it when I missed a black in the second-last frame. I didn't concentrate on that shot which was unforgivable. I couldn't believe it when Stephen didn't take his chances in the last frame - I didn't expect him to miss."

An emotional Ebdon dedicated his victory to his grandfather who died 12 years ago. "I bought this bottle of whisky for my grandfather when I won the world under-21 championship in Australia in 1990.

"He died shortly afterwards and I told my family that we would close up the bottle and not open it until I had won the World Championship."

One thing is certain - the taste of that whisky will be like none other.