IT FEELS GOOD TO BE THROUGH!
STORY AND PHOTOS BY TED LERNER
(Fujairah, UAE)--Judgement Day at the World 8-ball Championship in Fujairah has brought on the usual dramas that come when a slight roll of a pool ball can change your fortunes forever. For guys who toil year round for moments like these, the stakes simply couldn’t be bigger; you win and you start afresh tomorrow, with the possibility of a life changing world title a few days away. You lose and the cool breezes rolling in over the Al Hajar mountains will do nothing to ease your pain as you leave this friendly emirate by the Indian Ocean feeling weak and shamed.
The field began with 96 players yesterday from over 40 countries. 17 men from various corners of the globe qualified through to the knockout stage on Day 1, and 47 more will make it through today, Tuesday, here in Fujairah.
In the first part of today’s session, quiet tension and drama was the order of the day as players known and unknown battled for the chance to move on to the round of 64. Two time world champion Mika Immonen finally saw action, but had to battle back from from 5-3 down in his race to 7 alternate break match versus talented Brit Jayson Shaw. The two engaged in a mano-a-mano slugfest , trading break and runs until Shaw capitalized on a bad roll of the ball from the Finn. Immonen sucked up the tension and battled back. Down 6-5 he cleared off a dry break by Shaw, then broke and ran for a spot in the final 64. Shaw gets one more chance to go through later in the night.
“The break is everything here,” Immonen said afterward repeating an oft heard sentiment from all the players here. “One dry break can cost you the match. If you break consistently, you’ll win this thing.”
Immonen, who admittedly didn’t have a good year in 2011, especially compared to the historic tear he went on in 09 and ’10, says he’d lately been working himself back into top physical condition and feels good about his chances to finally add the 8-ball world title, to his 9-ball and 1- ball crowns.
“I’m in ‘kill’ shape now,” he said, and revealed he’s run 6 kilometers on the treadmill at his hotel before the match. “I’m feeling good.”
Another player feeling good right now is Bruno Muratore. The friendly 44 year Italian veteran wasn’t a ceded player, so he had to win two to move on to the knockout stage. After winning his match on day 1, Muratore found himself in a winner’s side dogfight with China’s tough Fu Jianbo. The battle went hill-hill when Fu lost position and fouled. Muratore nearly lost his way on the clear, but he held his nerve to book a spot in the final 64.
“I had a lot of stress in this match because I know him,” Muratore said afterward. The Rome native said he likes his chances here because unlike a lot of touring pros, he plays 8-ball regularly back home. He finished 5th in this event back in 2008, losing to Philippine great Ronnie Alcano.
“In Italy I play 8-ball all the time,” he said. “I like 8-ball because it’s a brain game. You have to think about the path to the 8, and when you play safe, you have to think how you change the path for your opponent.”
The always strong Philippine contingent is looking rock solid so far this year and will easily have the most number of players in the final 64. As of press time, six Filipinos have qualified for the final 64 today alone. They’ll join defending champion Dennis Orcullo and two others in the knockout stages beginning Wednesday. Two Pinoy’s of note, Roberto Gomez and Carlo Biado, cruised through with easy victories today.
Elmer Haya is not a name one normally thinks of when talking about heavyweights from the Philippines. But this 35 year old from Molave, Zamboanga del Sur and Butuan City did himself and his country proud today by defeating Morroco’s Yousfi Chaouki 7-5 and qualifying for the knockout stage.
Haya’s one of these Filipino players who are easy to root for considering their life story. With few opportunities to earn back home, he’s been toiling for the last year in the UAE as a house pro in the Champion Billiard Club one hour from Fujairah in the emirate of Ras Al Khaima, sending home $700 each month to keep wife and five kids fed, clothed and educated.
Haya, though, is here to grab opportunity, not sympathy. He can flat out play. He recently won the Dubai 9-ball festival and collected $3000. And he says that unlike other Filipino players back home, 8-ball has been his game of choice in the UAE.
“I have confidence that I can do well here because I play a lot of 8-ball here,” Haya said.
The group stages will conclude this evening with several more sessions.
The WPA will be providing up to the minute coverage of all the happenings on its website, www.wpa-pool.com, including live scoring of all matches, in depth articles on the goings on posted several times a day, as well as blow by blow coverage of big matches via the WPA’s Twitter page, @poolwpa.
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*The World Pool and Billiard Association(WPA) is the world governing body of the sport of pool. The WPA is also the member organization for pool of the World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS), the international umbrella organization encompassing all the major cue sports.
GROUP PLAY ON DAY 2
Winners are through to Final 64. Losers go to 1-loss side of group
Karl Boyes(GBR) 7 – 1 Noor Al Jarrah
Thorsten Hohmann(GER) 7 – 5 Mario He(AUT)
Mark Gray(GBR) 7 – 3 Demosthenes Pulpul(PHI)
Jalal Yousef(VEN) 7 –1 Daryl Peach(GBR)
Kou Po-Cheng(TPE) 7 – Sundeep Gulati(IND)
Amin Fekry(UAE) 7 – 4 Chang Yu Lung(TPE)
Liu Haitao(CHN) 7 – 2 Maghsoud Ali
Roberto Gomez(PHI) 7 – 3 Luke Rollinson(GBR)
Carlo Biado(PHI) 7 – 2 Francisco Diaz-Pizarro(ESP)
Hajato Hijikata(JPN) 7 – 5 Ko Pin YI(TPE)
Raymund Faraon(PHI) 7 – 4 Nick Van den Berg(NED)
Lo Li Wen(JPN) 7 – 0 Carlos Cabello(ESP)
Fu Chei Wei(TPE) 7 – 3 Chan Keng Kwang(SIN)
Mika Immonen(FIN)7 – 6 Jayson Shaw(GBR)
Bruno Muratore(ITA) 7 – 6 Fu Jianbo(CHN)
Losers Side Matches
(Winner is through to Final 64, Loser is out)
Kenny Kwok(HKG) 7 – 5 Marcus Chamat(SWE)
Nasser Al Mujaibel(KUW) 7 – 0 Mohammed El Assal(EGY)
Phuc Long Nguyen(VIE) 7 – 2 Salah Al Awadi(UAE)
Tomasz Kaplan(POL) 7 – 3 Mohammed Al Hosani(UAE)
Vilmos Foldes(HUN) 7 – 3 Ali Saeed(UAE)
Oliver Ortmann(GER) 7 – 1 Stuart Lawler(AUS)
Elmer Haya(PHI) 7 – 5 Yousfi Chaouki(MAR)
Ahmad Jallad(JOR) 7—4 Mohammed Ali(IRI)
Dominic Jentsch(GER) 7 – 1 Cho Pil Hyun(KOR)
Konstantin Stepanov(RUS) 7 – 1 Abdulla Juma(UAE)
So Shaw(IRI) 7 – 2 Sayeem Hossaien(BAN)
Elvis Calasang(PHI) 7 — 5 Hanni Al-Howri(UAE)