THE GANG OF FOUR GOES FOR GLORY
By Ted Lerner
(Doha, Qatar)–After a brutally taxing day of championship pool at the highest levels, England’s Darren Appleton, Japan’s Nayoki Ohi, Germany’s Ralf Souquet and China’s Lee He Wen all made it into the semi-finals of the 2012 World 9-ball Championship in Doha, Qatar.
Both semi-finals carry the classic story line of east vs. west. In one semi-final, Appleton will face off with Ohi. In the other semi-final, Souquet will be take on Lee.
The semi-finals will be a race to 11, alternate break and will be played concurrently at the Al Sadd Sports Club in Doha, beginning at 2pm local time(GMT +3). The final will be a race to 13, alternate break and will begin at 6pm.
The Al Sadd heaved with drama and emotion throughout the long day of play today as the field was cut from 32 players down to four. It was a marathon of hard core pool that when combined with the gravity of the circumstances, seemed to tax each and every player to the core. At times the winners of matches came down to a matter of who had the stamina and will power to withstand the constant pressure. Nobody who was there would argue that the last four men standing earned their spots the hard way and are battle hardened and ready for trench warfare.
Perhaps the most impressive player in the field today, and also the one who seemed to best be able to let the pressure effortlessly slide off him was Japan’s Ohi. The 29 year old from Osaka is known amongst fellow players as an affable free spirit and he played like it throughout the day. Ohi came out and completely steamrolled Taiwan’s Chang Jung Lin in the round of 32, 11-3. He then met up with Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann in the round of 16 where he came back from an early deficit and glided to the finish line for a well earned 11-9 victory.
A similar scenario happened in Ohi’s quarterfinal matchup against England’s Karl Boyes. Boyes had been developing a head of steam as he had just beaten Taiwan’s Fong Pang Chao 11-8, and then barely squeaked by young German talent Dominique Jentsch, 11-10.
But while the match was close throughout, Ohi seemed impervious to any of Boyes’ pressure and fought off the Englishman the whole way. Ohi never trailed and advanced with a well earned 11-9 victory.
China’s Lee is perhaps the most unassuming top tier player in the world today. With his bespectacled, urchin-like appearance, he could easily be mistaken for the class nerd. But any attempt to prejudge Li based on looks is done at one’s severe peril. This guy can flat out play.
Lee first took down Canada’s John Morra, 11-8. He then met up with one of the tournament’s surprises, Kuwait’s Omar Al Shaheen. The Kuwaiti’s have made serious advances in pool and the 19 year old Al Shaheen is clearly the face of the new and hungry generation.
Al Shaheen played a fantastic match and had the score even after ten racks. But like all great players, once Li got the lead, he managed to hold on to it by hook or by crook.
Al Shaheen fought furiously and had the backing of the boisterous crowd. But despite some late errors, the Chinese held on for a tight 11-9 win.
Lee then met up with the Philippines Antonio Gabica in the quarterfinal. Amazingly, Gabica, who is a coach for the Qatar national team, was the last Filipino left in a field that started with 17 on day 1. Four Pinoys had already been shown the exits by the time Gabica met Lee; Dennis Orcullo, Efren Reyes, Lee Van Corteza, and Jundel Mazon.
Gabica had just come off a thriller with Mika Immonen, barely beating the Finn, 11-9. Lee, though, looked like a machine in the first half of the match, streaking out to an 8-4, then 9-5 lead. But Gabica used his superbly fluid stroke to crawl back in the match. Lee started to wilt under the pressure. Gabica closed the gap to 10-9 but Lee broke and ran to book his place in the semis.
Another quarterfinal featured two of the games superb talents in Appleton and Taiwan’s Ko Pin Yi. Appleton has been playing well which seems to bring out the best in his opponents. Appleton barely got by one of the tournament’s upstarts, New Zealand’s Matthew Edwards, 11-10. Appleton then put in another fine performance against talented Greek, Nick Ekonomopoulos winning 11-8.
Ko had looked positively brilliant all week and he continued his fine run today. In the round of 32, Ko and Japan’s Lo Li Wen engaged in what was arguably the highest quality match of the day, with Ko winning by a hair, 11-10. Ko then put a muzzle on the Philippines’ Mazon, who had looked strong and steady up to that point.
Against Ko Appleton displayed championship form early and went up 8-3. But Ko took advantage of two flukes and closed the gap to 10-9. With the pressure and drama thick and heavy, Ko, tried to jump and pot a basic two in the jaws, when the cue ball flew off the table. Game, set, match for Appleton.
“I played perfect to go up 7-2,” Appleton said. “I feel good overall because he was the man to beat. He was playing better than anyone.”
Although it is surely anyone’s game on Friday, Appleton’s hunger to create history could spell the difference.
“To hold the US Open and World 9-ball at the same time would be nice. It would be unbelievable.”
In the other quarterfinal, Hall of Famer Ralf Souquet went up against the Netherland’s Nick van den Berg. Steady and reliable Souquet had quietly worked his way through the field, first squashing Venezuela’s Jonny Martinez, 11- 7, then Italy’s Bruno Muratore, 11-4.
Van den Berg was playing the Dutch version of steady and solid, first beating China’s Han Hao Xiang, then out maneuvering Orcullo, 11-6.
As expected this match became a total grind. The contest was close throughout, but both players, apparently exhausted, had difficulty deciding on how to proceed on ordinary shots. Over three hours after it began, van den Berg scratched with just the 9-ball left on the table, handing the match to Souquet, 11-9.
“I was drawing a blank,” a clearly relieved Souquet said afterward. “My mind was completely gone. I had eaten after the last match and that drained my energy.”
Souquet last won the World 9-ball in 1996. Since then he’s reached two finals and lost. But when the German legend puts his mind to something, he can never be counted out.
“Yes that’s my goal, to win the World 9-ball Championship again.”
The WPA will be providing full up to the minute coverage of the semi-finals and finals of 2012 World 9-ball Championship via its website at www.wpapool.com. There you can follow the action through our live scoring platform, articles with insights and analysis, and updated brackets. Fans can also get updates via the WPA Twitter page, @poolwpa.com.
Fans can also access live scoring through the official website of the Qatar Billiards and Snooker Federation at: http://www.qbsf.net/en/live_score.php.
*The World Pool And Billiard Association(WPA) is the international governing of the sport of pocket billiards.
Semi-finals, 2PM(GMT +3, June 29th, 2012)
Race to 11, Alternate Break
Ralf Souquet(GER) vs. Li He Wen(CHN)
Darren Appleton(GBR) vs. Naoyuki Ohi(JPN)
Race to 13, Alternate Break
The prize breakdown is as follows:
Champion – $40,000
Runner-up – $20,000
3- 4 – $12,000
17-32 – $3,500
65-96 – $1000 (loser of 2nd round in the loser’s bracket of Stage 2)
Total – $300,000
The 2012 WPA World 9-ball Championship
Sponsored by – Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC)
Co-sponsored by – Simonis (cloth)
Organized by – Qatar Billiards & Snooker Federation (QBSF)
Sanctioned by – World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) & Asian Pocket
Billiard Union (APBU)
Simonis 860 Cloth, Electric Blue Color.
Aramith Super Pro TV Ball
Round of 32 Matches on June 28
Ralf Souquet(GER) 11 – 7 Jonny Martinez(VEN)
Bruno Muratore(ITA) 11- 10 Fu Che Wei(TPE)
Dennis Orcullo(PHI) 11 – 8 Hsu Kai Lun(TPE)
Nick van den Berg(NED) 11 – 9 Han Hao Xiang(CHN)
Mika Immonen(FIN) 11 – 5 Lee Van Corteza(PHI)
Antonio Gabica(PHI) 11 – 9 Yang Ching Shun(TPE)
Omar Al Shaheen(KUW) 11 – 6 Khaled Al Mutairi(KUW
Lee He Wen(CHN) 11 – 8 John Morra(CAN)
Naoyuki Ohi(JPN) 11 – 3 Chang Jun Lin(TPE)
Thorsten Hohmann(GER) 11 – 9 Yukio Akagariyama(JPN)
Karl Boyes(GBR) 11 – 8 Chao Fong Pang(CHN)
Dominic Jentsch(GER) 11 – 10 Efren Reyes(PHI)
Darren Appleton(GBR) 11 – 10 Matthew Edwards(NZL)
Nick Ekonomopoulos(GRE) 11 – 7 Liu Haitao(CHN)
Jundel Mazon(PHI) 11 – 3 Konstantin Stepanov(RUS)
Ko Pin Yi(TPE) 11 – 10 Lo Li Wen(JPN)
Final 16, Race to 11, Alternate Break
Ralf Souquet(GER) 11 – 4 Bruno Muratore(ITA)
Nick van den Berg(NED) 11 – 6 Dennis Orcullo(PHI)
Antonio Gabica(PHI) 11 – 9 Mika Immonen(FIN)
Lee He Wen(CHN) 11 – 9 Omar Al Shaheen (KUW)
Naoyuki Ohi(JPN) 11 – 9 Thorsten Hohmann(GER)
Karl Boyes(GBR) 11-10. Dominic Jentsch(GER)
Ko Pin Yi(TPE) 11 – 9 Jundel Mazon(PHI)
Darren Appleton(GBR) 11 – 8 Nick Ekonomopoulos(GRE)
Ralf Souquet(GER) 11 – 9 Nick van den Berg(NED)
Lee He Wen(CHN) 11 – 9 Antonio Gabica(PHI)
Darren Appleton(GBR) 11 – 9 Ko Pin Yi(TPE)
Naoyuki Ohi(JPN) 11 – 9 Karl Boyes(GBR)