It’s a Race to the Finish Line

After cutting the field in half, Immonen and 31 other gear up for a frantic ride to the wire at the World 9-Ball Championship

By Ted Lerner
Photos by Michael Neumann

(Doha, Qatar) – In a long day of hard core pool and tense drama, the grind that is the toughest pool competition in the world kicked into high gear on Wednesday as the unforgiving single elimination knockout rounds commenced at the 2012 World 9-ball Championship.

The day started with 64 players eyeing the ultimate prize of world supremacy in 9-ball, and ended with 32 of them happy and relieved to play another day, and the other 32 seriously considering a long lonely walk into the Qatari desert.

Some of the scripts played out as expected, while others offered fans twists and turns right up to the last ball.

With 13 players in the final 64, the Philippines had the most to lose and indeed that’s exactly what happened as 8 Pinoys, including 2010 World 9-ball Champion Francisco Bustamante and 2006 champion Ronnie Alcano, went down to defeat. But Pinoy pool fanatics can take heart; the legend Efren Reyes is still kicking, as is the country’s current top player, Dennis Orcullo.

Continuing with a macro view of the championship landscape, Germany put in an all around solid performance today, as did the Chinese. But out of all the countries, the Taiwanese are looking like the team to beat this year.

Based upon some of the upstart performances in the group stages, the morning session with 8 tables in action offered good possibilities for a few upsets, but instead it became a confirmation of that age old phrase, ‘the cream rises to the top.’

tony mika Its a Race to the Finish Line

In a long day of hard core pool and tense drama, the grind that is the toughest pool competition in the world kicked into high gear on Wednesday as the unforgiving single elimination knockout rounds commenced at the 2012 World 9-ball Championship.

Germany’s Ralf Souquet, Taiwan’s Fu Che We and the Netherland’s Nick Van Den Berg all beat back pretenders to the crown. As did the Philippines’ Orcullo, who took a measure of revenge against Hong Kong’s Andrew Kong, who had beaten the Filipino in the group stages.

“The pressure is very big here,” Orcullo admitted after his match. “You just have to deal with it because it’s only going to get bigger.”

The second session presented the fans with a terrific match as multi world champion Mika Immonen faced the Maltese speedster, Tony Drago, in a match played on the TV table. The two stars engaged in a back and forth slugfest that neither one could put away. Drago, who plays five shots while others in the arena play just one, sprinted to a 10-8 lead in the race to 11, alternate break match and seemed to have the win in hand when he tied Immonen up in a pickle.

But Immonen, always massively hungry for a world title, escaped with his second incredible late match shot in two days, and ended up catching Drago. A break and run sent the Finn into the final 32 while Drago headed for the door.

“At 10-9 I snookered him behind the 3,” Drago said, “but he made that miracle escape. When that happens you think that someone up there doesn’t want me to win.”

“I’m lucky to be here,” Immonen said. “He’s a phenomenal shot maker. It’s easy to get shell shocked when you play Tony. You blink your eyes and you’re out.”

As expected the Philippines Reyes drew a decent crowd of Filipino overseas workers to the arena. Reyes didn’t look particularly impressive but his opponent, Toh Lian Han of Singapore, wasn’t up to the task on the TV table. Reyes won 11- 4.

“I played terrible,” Reyes said. “He miss a lot of easy shots. I can’t win if I play like that.”

Philippine fans hung around to cheer on Alcano. But Alcano looked a shell of his self from last year and lost to his steadier countryman Jundel Mazon, 11-9.

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