Harlow one step from world singles final

Eastern hero Greg Harlow survived the relentless onslaught of the underdogs to claw his way into the Potters Holidays World Indoor Singles semi-finals at Hopton.

Eastern hero Greg Harlow survived the relentless onslaught of the underdogs to claw his way into the Potters Holidays World Indoor Singles semi-finals at Hopton.

The 37-year-old Ely ace evaded the deadly bite of Spalding's Graham Smith to inch his way home in a knife- edged sudden-death showdown.

Harlow is the only one of the world's top 16 to remain in the championship following today's exit of title holder Paul Foster - beaten by 100-1 outsider Rob Paxton.

And his victory kept alive hopes of an all-Eastern final with Norfolk's own Mervyn King facing Stephen Rees in the last quarter-final this Friday.

For Harlow today's victory matched his best-ever world singles run at Potters - equalling his spectacular charge into the semi-finals at Preston back in 1997.

But he was himself on the brink of defeat as Smith saw his chance of a second semi-final slot in three years slip from his grasp in another decider.

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Smith needed to draw the last wood of the match to within 18 inches of the jack to take the scalp of the double International Open champion.

“I thought I was on my way home,” admitted Harlow. “I was mightily relieved to get through.”

Smith, requiring a victory against his rival to snatch a place in the world's top 16 - guaranteeing him seeded positions in next season's majors - saw his wood roll just too far, catching the outside edge of Harlow's bowl, instead of finishing inside it.

“It was in my hands to win it,” he said. “My last wood seemed a decent weight. I thought it was the winner - but it just didn't stop.”

Harlow, who won 12-4, 6-7, 2-1, added: “This kind of success has been along time coming at this venue. After reaching the quarter-finals and semi-finals at Preston, I had success in various other tournaments - but somehow it has never happened for me in the world singles here.

“I can't explain it. I've tried all sorts of different preparation and tactics over the years. It's one of these enigmas that I can't put my finger on.

“This time around I've intensified my practice sessions before coming here and I arrived at this championship having taken the International Open two years in a row.

“I always feel that each event stands alone - but there's no doubt that knowing you've gone the distance in a major event can be a big boost.

“As I go in to the final stages here, nothing is guaranteed but at least I know I've been there and done it on the big occasion and that does help.”

Harlow now faces the winner of Friday's quarter-final clash between Welsh international Richard Morgan and New Zealand's Jamie Hill.

Meanwhile, Exeter postman Rob Paxton could scarcely believe he had toppled three-times world champion Foster to reach the semi-finals in his first ever world singles campaign.

Paxton, from the Exonia club, admitted: “I was totally outbowled in the first set and just scraped through the second set. It was only when the tiebreak arrived that I started playing better!

“Strangely enough I have never done well in tiebreaks in previous events - usually losing 2-1 in World Bowls Tour qualifiers. However, in this event I've now scored victories following three tiebreaks in four games, so someone must be looking down on me here!”

Foster, who had his sights on a record-breaking fourth title, stormed through the opening set 9-4, only for Paxton to capture the second 8-4.

At the first end of the decider, Foster nailed a perfect wood onto the jack but Paxton responded by springing it into the open and then drew the scoring shot.

At the second end after the Scot had drawn the shot, Paxton summoned his wonder wood, sending the jack crashing into the ditch. When his bowl followed it to end up just three inches from the jack in the ditch, Foster faced 'Mission Impossible' - and narrowly failed to pull it off.

Paxton said: “I was after the jack or the bowl. Getting both into the ditch was a fantastic result.

“Just after delivering my wood I went behind the screen to compose myself and it was only when I came back onto the rink that I realised what a tremendous result I'd got. It's what dreams are made of.”

Paxton now has a day to get back to earth before taking on King or Rees in Saturday's semi-final.