YORKSHIRE snooker hero Paul Hunter is brimming with confidence after a superb performance in his opening match in the PowerHouse UK Championship in York.

He thrashed Surrey's David Gray 9-1 to power through to the last 16 and a crowd-pulling duel with 1997 world champion Ken Doherty, last year's UK beaten finalist.

Hunter, who took the British Open crown last month, raced to an astonishing 8-0 lead at the end of the first session yesterday against world No 19 Gray, a 9-7 first round winner over Mark Davis on Sunday.

And it took him under half an hour to wrap up victory at the Barbican Centre last night.

"I played really well, especially in the first four frames. I concentrated well out there," said world No 9 Hunter.

"No-one can play that well all the time. I wish I could. But it's all about confidence and at the moment I have plenty of it.

"After the British Open I did not do any practice and I started again only this week. Matthew Stevens (the world No 8) came to my house in Batley for a practice session and I beat him 8-0 on Tuesday."

Hunter made the ideal start by knocking in a 105 break in the first frame against Gray, who scored only 49 points off his own cue in the first five frames. Hunter made a 101 break in the fifth to prove his brilliant form.

Doherty, 9-7 second round winner over Scot Stephen Maguire, indicated his own confidence for his meeting with Hunter, which starts at noon on Sunday and continues from 1pm on Monday.

"There is life in the old dog yet. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve," said the world No 5, whose victory last night was his first this term in ranking tournaments.

"It will be very, very tough against Paul, but if I can play the way I did today and I get into my rhythm like today I think I can show who is best - and that's me."

The Dubliner, beaten 10-1 by Ronnie O'Sullivan in last year's UK final in York, lost the first frame to Maguire but won the next four. A 118 break in frame seven put him 5-2 in front and a 125 in the 11th made his lead 7-4. Maguire compiled a 122 break to be one behind at 7-6 and then levelled the match.

Doherty responded with a 97 break to regain the advantage and clinched victory in the 16th frame.

"It was great to win one. The longer matches over 17 frames do allow you to settle and relax into a game.

"In these big tournaments like the UK the cream will always come to the top."

Updated: 12:46 Thursday, December 05, 2002