AMERICAS LAST BEST HOPE

AMERICAS LAST BEST HOPE

Story and Photos 
by Ted Lerner

(Doha, Qatar)– Shane Van Boening will be the first to admit that he hasn’t performed up to his self imposed high expectations when he plays overseas. The American star, who continually travels the globe to play tournaments, has only won twice outside of his native USA. To Van Boening, though,  those two victories were small events close to home; a 10-ball tournament in  Aruba and another small event in Nicaragua. The American has much higher aspirations. He wants to win the world championship overseas.

Tonight on the center table at the Al Sadd Sports Club in Doha, Qatar, Van Boening took a big step towards achieving his dream when he narrowly defeated former double world champion Wu Chia Ching(now known as Wu Jiaqing) in a 9-8 cliffhanger.  With the victory the American qualified for the business end of the 2011 World 9-ball Championship, the single elimination knockout round of 64 which begins on Wednesday.

Van Boening, however, nearly found himself on the ropes and in the losers bracket. He was up 7-3 in the race to 9, alternate break contest. But Wu fought back to close to 7-6. Van Boening pushed the score line  to 8-6, before Wu rallied to tie.  Wu broke in the final rack and potted a ball, but uncharacteristically played a bad safety on the 1, which left the American a clear shot. In his trademark nonchalant style, Van Boening picked off the remaining colors for the big win.

While the South Dakota native craves a big win overseas, he isn’t just trying to win the world championship for himself either. In what has to be one of the biggest ironies seen in the sport of pool in sometime, only two Americans have bothered to travel to Qatar and enter the world championship of the American game of pool. And the other American player beside Van Boening, Hunter Lombardo, is making his first ever appearance on the big stage.(Lombardo plays in the losers bracket of his group Tuesday.)  So realistically the hopes of the nation that created the great game of pool rest on the shoulders of one man.

“It’s motivation because I’m pretty much here by myself,” Van Boening said after defeating Wu. “ I want to win this for the USA.”

As to why many American players are becoming more scarce on the growing international scene these days, Van Boening says it’s for a number of reasons.

“The other American players don’t like to travel,” he said.  “And there’s a lot of pressure with all the expenses to go this far.  I just like to play anywhere I can. I love to travel the whole world and play pool.”

Van Boening feels confident that he can progress far in this year’s World Championship, where the field of 128 players from over 40 countries is as strong as ever. Two years ago he came here and reached the semi finals of the Qatar Open, which was the tournament that would become the current World 9-ball Championship.

But there’s another angle at play here that just might work in Van Boening’s favor this year. For the first time ever in a World 9-ball Championship, the players are playing on Diamond tables, which have been playing extremely difficult and getting rave reviews from the top players.  The American has a special fondness for the American tables.

“I’m confident on Diamond tables,” Van Boening said smiling.  “I know how the pockets are. The tournaments I win in the States are all on Diamonds.”

It could be just the thing to put the World Championship of the American game back in American hands.

***

Van Boening is just one of many big names who made it through to the final 64 here in Doha. The third day of the World 9-ball Championship was given over to the winners’ side of the group matches, and 32 players have now advanced into the final 64, which begins Wednesday.

So far in the 2011 World Championship there have been no major upsets, and nearly all of pool’s big names have gone through to the knockout stage. Many people are crediting this development to the very tough table conditions, which always favor better players, and puts added pressure on everyone else, especially if they haven’t had much experience at this level. One thing is sure in the coming days. The sport’s big guns are going to be slugging it out in some all time classics.

One who’s had plenty of experience at the highest echelons of pool is Efren Reyes of the Philippines. Reyes was first up on day three in a match against the young Russian Konstantin Stepanov. Once again Reyes was  placed on center table where he could best be seen by the 500 plus Filipino fans, all of them overseas workers who live in Qatar,  who turned out to cheer their hero’s  every shot.

After falling behind 2-0 Reyes completely dominated Stepanov and ran away with the match. The Magician broke well, looked confident in his potting and punished Stepanov for every mistake. Reyes won going away, 9-3 and advanced to the round of 64.

“I played good this time,” an obviously pleased Reyes said after the match. “My break was working well. The  breaking was easy with this plastic rack. I have a day off tomorrow so I need rest.”

Reyes, who’s a living legend in his native Philippines and is mobbed wherever he goes, often complains of the immense pressure to win when he’s playing in big events back home. He said it’s not much different even when he travels abroad.

“Yes there’s also pressure here because there are so many Filipinos here,” he said laughing. “I’m ashamed to them if I lose. They think I can never lose.” To prove his point, Reyes left the arena and was literally mobbed by several hundred rabid Filipino fans, who shouted “Idol!” and  pushed and clamored for photos.

The always strong Filipino contingent pitched a shutout in the first session as all four Pinoy players won easily. Dennis Orcullo easily beat Venezuela’s Jalal Yousef 9-3. The young gun Carlo Biado waltzed over Korea’s Lee Gun Jae, 9-2. And Hall of Famer Francisco Bustamante defeated Kuwait’s Alazmi Majed, 9-4.

For England’s Chris Melling, it was another powerhouse performance from pool’s hottest player right now. Melling broke and ran every single time he had the break and ran away from a very capable Lo Li Wen of Japan, 9-2.  The burly Brit has now won two tournaments in a row, including the world ranking China Open, and hasn’t lost in 16 matches. Melling said he had already mastered the break shot, but wasn’t worried that others might follow suit.

“This is the best I ever played,” he said. “I’ve got the break shot down. I’m controlling the cue and the one ball. The Diamond tables are a bit tight but it’s too easy to break. If you figure it out it’s guaranteed you’ll pot the one ball on the break. It’s going to come down to luck. And who can handle the pressure.  That’s ok with me because right now I’m definitely the top four or five under pressure.”

Other players who qualified in the first session and looked very strong were last year’s semi-finalist Kuo Po Cheng, former World 9-ball champion Mika Immonen, Chris Orme of Canada, England’s Imran Majid, and France’s Stepan Cohen.

The day’s second session saw mostly routs from some big names. Germany’s Ralf Souquet , current World 10-ball champion Huidji See of the Netherlands, England’s Karl Boyes and Taiwan’s Chang Jung Lin all went untouched. Former World 9-ball champion Thorsten Hohmann struggled a bit but passed the grade. Three out of four Filipinos made it the round of 64, including the hard hitting Jeffrey De Luna.

Current US Open champion Darren Appleton found himself in a tough match with Bader Al Awadi of Kuwait. Appleton was down 5-3 before coming back to win and afterwards praised the progress of the local lads.

“These Middle Eastern guys have improved a lot in the last two years,” Appleton said. “You’ll see a few of them getting to the last 16 for sure. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them get to the final within two years.”

The evening session confirmed that the Europeans have all but taken over pool, as the Netherlands Nick van den Berg and Niels Fiejen played strong and booked spots in the final 64. So too did 18 year old Austrian Mario He, who won an 9-8 tester against Taiwan’s Hsu Kun Lai.

The best match  of the evening session came between Poland’s Radislaw Babica and the Philippines Ronnie Alcano, the former World 9 and World 8-ball champion. In front of a boisterous crowd of mostly Filipinos, Babica  went up 5-2 in the race to 9 and then watched Alcano sprint to the hill at 8-6. Babica showed some serious nerve and tied up the match. Then the confident Pole kept Alcano in his chair and broke and ran for a very satisfying victory.

The group stages wind up on Tuesday at the Al Sadd Sports Club with all matches do-or-die as  players from the losers side of each bracket compete for the final spots in the round of 64.

The WPA will be providing complete coverage of all the action from inside the Al Sadd Sports club throughout the tournament. 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.

Complete results from  Day 3 of the World 9-ball championship are below. All winners have advanced to the knockout stage of 64, while the losers get one more chance on Tuesday.

1st Session

Group A Winners Bracket

Dennis Orcullo(PHL) 9 – 3 Jalal Yousef(VEN)
Efren Reyes(PHL) 9 – 3 Konstantin Stepanov(RUS)

Group B Winners Bracket

Chris Orme(CAN) 9 – 0 Fu Jan Bo(CHN)
Chris Melling(GBR) 9 – 2 Lo Li Wen(JPN)

Group C Winners Bracket

Roman Hybler(CZE) 9 – 5 Muhammad Zulfikri(INA)
Carlos Cabello(ESP) 9 – 4 Fu Chei Wei(TPE)

Group D Winners Bracket

Carlo Biado(PHL) 9 – 2 Lee Gun Jae(KOR)
Francisco Bustamante(PHL) 9 – 4 Alazmi Majed(KUW)
Group E Winners Bracket

Ko Puo Cheng(TPE) 9 – 1 Christian Tuvi(URU)
Imran Majid(GBR) 9 – 7 Manuel Gama(POR)

Group F Winners Bracket

Mika Immonen(FIN) 9 – 2 Hwang Yong(KOR)
Stephan Cohen(FRA) 9 – 6 Dhang Jinhu(CHN)

2nd Session

Group G Winners Bracket

Thorsten Hohmann(GER) 9 – 4 Majed Waleed(QAT)
Oliver Medenilla(PHL) 9 – 6 Nguyen Phuong Thao(VIE)

Group H Winners Bracket

Jeffrey De Luna(PHL) 9 – 4 Riyan Setiawan(INA)
Huidji See(NED) 9 – 2 Takhti Zarekani(IRI)

Group I Winners Bracket

Chang Jung Lin(TPE) 9 – 1 Soheil Vahedi(IRI)
Karl Boyes(GBR) 9 – 0 Lee Chenman(HKG)
Group J Winners Bracket

Ralf Souquet(GER) 9 – 1 Sundeep Gulati(IND)
Shane Van Boening(USA) 9 – 8 Wu Jiaqing(CHN)

Group K Winners Bracket

Darren Appleton(GBR) 9 – 5 Bader Al Awadi(KUW)
Chang Yu Lun(TPE) 9 – 3 Israel Rota(PHL-QAT)


Group L Winners Bracket

Alan Cuartero(PHL-KUW) 9 – 5 Marcus Chamat(SWE)
Raj Hundal(IND) 9 – 8 Naoyuki Oi(JPN)

3rd Session

Group M Winners Bracket

Radoslaw Babica(POL) 9 – 8 Ronnie Alcano(PHL)
Daryl Peach(GBR) 9 – 4 Mohammad Al Hazmi(KSA)

Group N Winners Bracket

Mario He(AUT) 9 – Hsu Kai Lun(TPE)
Nick Van Den Berg(NED) 9 – 5 Francisco Sanchez Ruiz(ESP)
Group O Winners Bracket

Yukio Akakariyama(JPN) 9 – 3 Alok Kumar(IND)
Niels Feijen(NED) 9 – 4 Sascha Tege(GER)
Group P Winners Bracket

Antonio Lining(PHL) 9 – 4 Tohru Kouribayashi(JPN)
Carlo Dalmann(CRO) 9 –  5 Ali Saeed(UAE)

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