AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

Story and Photo by Ted Lerner

(Doha, Qatar)–After what has to be one of the most memorable and exciting days in the history of championship pool, the Philippines Dennis Orcullo and Ronnie Alcano, England’s Mark Gray, and Japan’s Yukio Akakariyama all  made it  into the semi-finals of the World 9-ball Championship in Doha, Qatar.

One semi-final will be an all-Filipino affair between former World 9-ball Champion Alcano, and the world’s current number one ranked player, Orcullo.  The other semi-final will feature Gray vs. Akakarayima. Both race to 11, alternate break matches will begin  at 3pm local time Friday, July 1(GMT +3). The race to 13 alternate break final will begin later at 7pm.

It would be hard to imagine that the last three matches of this year’s World 9-ball Championship could produce any more drama than has already occurred but the way things went Thursday evening, anything must be possible. Two of the race to 11 matches  went to a sudden death decider. Another one went to the 20th rack. World class players were reduced to rubble under the tortuous pressure;  normally gimme-type pots became impossible makes; the second you figured you knew what was about to happen, something unheard of occurred.

The day began at the Al Sadd Sports Club in Doha at 10am with 32 players remaining. By the time the quarter finals rolled around in the evening session,  there had already been enough nail biting drama to last years. What happened in the quarter finals produced enough heart stopping moments to last a lifetime.

Actually there was one contest out of the four that produced almost no drama. Going in, the matchup between Orcullo and England’s Daryl Peach promised fireworks as both players were playing superb pool. But once the contest got underway, it quickly became apparent that Orcullo is in another class this year.

Orcullo raced out to a 5-0 lead and from there it was all but over. Orcullo had figured out the diamond and was making two and three balls on every breakout, and leaving himself an open shot on the 1 ball.  On the rare occasion that he missed, he would leave himself safe. Peach simply had no answer and he got routed by the man playing the best pool in the tournament, 11-2.

“He played brilliant,” Peach conceded afterwards. “And Dennis doesn’t get rattled by the Filipino fans cheering him on like some of the other Filipinos. It actually does him good.”

Orcullo, the current World 8-ball champion, is seriously ready to cash in on Friday and someone is going to have to play their all time best to beat him.

“I’m hungry to win this tournament,” Orcullo said after waylaying Peach. “I have a lot of experience and I know how to focus. I always want to play good in any tournament but this one is big.”

It was just about when Orcullo went off to relax that the other matches in the Al Sadd began to sizzle. On the far table Gray had jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the USA’s Shane Van Boening. The American had just come off an all time classic 11-10 thriller against England’s Darren Appleton and looked a bit flat. But then Van Boening stormed back to take a 5-4 lead. Gray struck back and, under pressure, played phenomenal pool to move up 8-5. Gray continued to play super smooth and pushed the score to 10 – 6. Then Van Boening kicked it into another gear.

After Gray fouled, Van Boening nailed a combination for the rack. The American broke and ran the next rack to make it 10-9. Gray had the break in the 20th frame but failed to get three balls past the head string. Van Boening, who seemed to have stolen the momentum, had  the clear path to a tie and got down  with the bridge for a fairly elementary cut on the 9-ball.  To his horror, however, he missed the shot.

The two fought and agonized over that 9 ball for over 15 minutes until an errant safe by Van Boening gave Gray an open shot, which he potted for the win.

“I didn’t expect to be in the semi-finals,” Gray said afterward, as a devastated Van Boening slumped in  his match chair for 30 minutes.  “But I’m thinking I can win it. I usually play good on the big stage. And my confidence is really high right now. Who knows?”

At just about the same time that Gray and Van Boening had nearly gone to the limit, Alcano and Japan’s Toru Kuribayashi were headed for the cliff. As he had in his previous matches all day, Alcano had flashed plenty of that same magic that carried him to the world title in 2006. He jumped out to a 7-3 lead and looked a shoe in to face Ocullo the next day in the semis. The Japanese, though, mounted a furious comeback and tied the match at 8. Alcano reclaimed the lead, only to see Kuribayashi win two straight with some incredibly clutch shots to go on the hill. Alcano fired back with a break and run to bring on the pressure packed decider.

Kuribayashi broke and then the pair got engaged in a tense safety battle. Both players missed very difficult attempts before Alcano found a pathway. A long shot on the three ball stayed in the jaws, then suddenly dropped, eliciting squeals of fear and excitement from the over 500 Filipinos in the arena. Alcano cleared the table for the win and a spot in the semis.

Across the arena, Vinacio Tanio of the Philipines and Japan’s Yukio Akakariyama were also heading for a dramatic train wreck. The match had been close throughout with Akakariyama never able to get more than two racks up. Tanio, a journeyman who lives in Dubai and works there coaching the UAE national team, finally caught up to the Japanese at 8-8, and then went ahead 9-8. Tanio began to wilt in the next rack when he missed an easy six which allowed Akakariyama to tie at 9-9.

Tanio reached the hill when a missed bank dropped in an unintended pocket, sending the crowd in to fits. A stunned Akakariyama then broke and ran to force a one rack decider.

In the final frame Tanio broke off, got two balls down and found a path to the finish line where an unlikely spot in the semi-finals of the World Championship awaited. But just when he had the prize in his grasp, Tanio left himself bad position on the 8. The resulting pot left a long painful cut on the 9 which he missed by at least a foot. Akakariyama couldn’t believe it and he jumped up to look at an extremely tough, full table  cut on the nine ball. The Japanese looked at the shot for over ten minutes, before sending it down the rail and into the pocket for the biggest win of his career.

The WPA will be providing complete coverage of the semi finals and finals from inside the Al Sadd Sports club in Doha, Qatar. Fans around the world can follow matches as they happen via our live scoring platform. The live scoring button can be seen on the front page of the WPA’s new and improved website, www.wpa-pool.com . There you can also see the brackets icon which will give you updated standings from each group and the knockout stage.

Fans can also get instant updates, insights and scores by following the WPA on Twitter.  Our Twitter user name is @poolwpa. You can go directly to our Twitter page at,  http://twitter.com/poolwpa.

In addition, the WPA will be providing insights and analysis with articles posted several times daily on the WPA home page.

To view the brackets for the knockout stage please click here. Or click the Brackets button the home page of the WPA at www.wpa-pool.com Scroll down to the bottom of the PDF file to the see the knockout stage brackets.

Results from the Quarterfinals are below.

Quarterfinals Race to 11, Alternate Break 7pm(GMT + 3 hours)

Dennis Orcullo(PHL) 11 – 2 Daryl Peach(GBR)
Ronnie Alcano(PHL) 11 -10 Toru Kuribayashi(JPN)
Yukio Akakariyama(JPN) 11 – 10. Vicenc io Tanio(PHL)
Mark Gray(GBR) 11 – 9 Shane Van Boening(USA)

Semi-Finals Friday, July1. 3pm GMT+3 Race to 11, Alternate break

Dennis Orcullo(PHL) vs. Ronnie Alcano(PHL)
Mark Gray(GBR) vs. Yukio Akakariyama(JPN)

Finals, Friday July 1, 7pm. Race to 13 Alternate Break

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