STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT

STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT

Story and Photo
by Ted Lerner

(Doha, Qatar)–When it comes to big names in the sport of pool, they don’t come much larger than Efren Reyes and Francisco Bustamante.  And that’s why whenever the two Hall of Famers enter any arena around the world, they are usually met with opponents who are jacked to the gills looking for the big upset.

That’s what happened on day 1 at the 2011 World 9-ball Championship at the Al Sadd Sports Club in Doha, Qatar  as first Reyes and then Bustamante were featured on Table 1. With several hundred Filipino overseas workers cheering their every rack from the stands overlooking the beautifully outfitted arena, both players were taken to the limit with thrilling down-to-wire matches, and both escaped victorious by the narrowest of margins.

The legend Reyes was given the honor of being first up on center table where he faced the very capable Mark Gray of Great Britain in the first match of the group stages. Gray had admitted at breakfast earlier in the day that he was itching to play Reyes and make a statement to the rest of the field that he was in it to win it. And for the first half of the match he did just that, as the Brit went up 6-2. Reyes, though,  clawed his way back and tied the match at 7-7, then went up up 8-7 with a break and run. Gray cleared off a poor safety by Reyes in rack 15 to bring the match to a 1 rack decider. Reyes, though, made a ball on the break then coolly ran the rack for the victory.

“I played OK,” Reyes said immediately afterward. “Two times I didn’t make a ball on the break.” Asked if he thought he could win his second World 9-ball title, Reyes said; “I don’t know. This is very difficult. Too many good players are here.”

While the Magician went off to sign autographs and pose for photos with his legion of admirers, the defending champion Bustamante came into the arena in what looked on paper like an easy tune up match against overseas Filipino Caneda Villamor.  Villamor, who works in nearby Saudi Arabia, is one of many Filipino pool pros who have migrated to the Middle East to teach pool for a living.

The race to 9 alternate break match looked at first to be going to plan as Bustamante moved ahead 5-2.  Villamor, though, was clearly riding a wave of motivation playing against his famous countryman, and stormed back to cut the lead to 6-5. The two went back and forth for the next 30 minutes in what became a nervy and entertaining battle. Bustamante was leading 8-7 with Villamor pressing him in a safety battle. Then, facing what looked to be a sure safety play, Bustamante pulled a rabbit out of the hat when he hit a full table kick on the 6 ball, which collided with the 9 and sent the winning ball into the side pocket for the victory. It appeared to be a lucky shot, but Bustamante said he saw the possibility and went for it.

“I tried to make that 9-ball,” an obviously relieved Bustamante said afterward. When asked if he was surprised at how good his unknown opponent played the Hall of Famer responded: “Hey don’t forget, he’s a Filipino. All Filipinos play good. I’m just happy to win because now there’s not too much pressure.”

Both Bustamante and Reyes move to the winners side of their group and need just one win to move into the knockout stage of 64. The 128 players have been divided into 16 groups of 8, playing a double elimination format, race to 9, alternate Beak. 4 qualifiers (2 from winner’s brackets and 2 from loser’s brackets) will advance into the final round of 64 players which is single elimination, race to 11, alternate Break.  The final will be a race to 13, alternate break.

48 out of the 128 player field saw action over the first two sessions. There were several other thrilling matches over the course of the first two sessions today as well. Manuel Gama of Portugal took down the Philippines Roberto Gomez 9-8. The 31 year old Gama, who’s ranked 27 on the Euro Tour, showed plenty of heart and nerves of steel as he dueled with the experienced Gomez down the stretch. Gama won despite having scratched on the break in the deciding rack.

Gama’s teammate Henrique Correia nearly made it a big day for Portugal but lost  by a thread to China’s Fu Jan Bo 9-8.

In another nail biter, recent China Open winner Chris Melling of England barely got by the Philippines Antonio Gabica, 9-8. Gabica, who’s been living in Doha for the past 8 months working as a coach for the Qatar National Team, fought back from a 7-5 deficit, to go up 8-7. With 2 balls down on the break, the Filipino looked all clear to the finish line when he missed a 3-9 combo. Melling, who’s been playing super confident for several months now, cleared to tie up the match, then won the final rack for the hard fought victory.

There will be two more sessions on Saturday. The organizers have planned a lavish opening ceremony just before the start of the evening’s matches.

The 2011 World 9-ball championship has $250,000 in prize money  on offer, with $36,000 going to the winner.  The tournament will run daily through July 1.

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 the first two sessions on day 1 of the World 9-ball championship are below;

Group A
Dennis Orcullo(PHL) 9—4 Andrew Kong(HKG)
Jalal Yousef(VEN) 9—4 Mohanna Obaidly(QAT)
Efren Reyes(PHL) 9—8 Mark Gray(GBR)
Konstantin Stepanov(RUS) 9—7Vilmos Foldes(HUN)

Group B

Fu Jan Bo(CHN) 9—8 Henrique Correia(POR)
Chris Orme( CAN ) 9—4 Ali Berjaoui Mohamad(LEB)
Chris Melling(GBR) 9—8 Antonio Gabica (PHL)
Lo Li Wen(JPN) 9—6 Majeed Al Zaab( KUW  )

Group C

Roman Hybler (CZE) 9—5 Jason Klatt(CAN)
Muhamed Zulfikri (INA) 9—6 Han Hao Xiang(CHN)
Fu Che Wei(TPE) 9—5 Bashar Hussain(QAT)
Carlo Cabello(ESP) 9—4 Omarai Shaheeme(KUW)

Group D

Francisco Bustamante(PHL) 9—7 Canedo Villamor(PHL)
Carlo Biado(PHL) 9—5 Petri Makkonen(FIN)
Majide Alazme(KUW) 9—6 Jon Grimley(NZL)
Lee Gun Jai(KOR)9 – 6 Scott Higgins(GBR)

Group E

Kuo Po Cheng(TPE) 9—7 Murni, Ahmad Taufi(BRU)
Manuel Gama(POR) 9—8 Roberto Gomez(PHL)
Imran Majid(GBR) 9—4 Naeem Ali, Ahmed(JOR)
Meshel Turkey(QAT) 9—7 Christian Tuvi(URU)

Group F

Mika Immonen(FIN) 9—3 Hanni Al Howri(UAE)
Dang Jin-Hu(CHN) 9—3 David Alcaide(ESP)
Stephen Cohen(FRA) 9—Ko Ping Chung(TPE) 7
Hwang Yong(KOR) 9— 4 Martin Daigle(CAN)

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