Now it’s anybody’s Ball Game

Now it’s anybody’s Ball Game

32 players battle through Judgement Day nerves and tension to grab a spot in the Final 64 as the real race for World 9-ball supremacy begins.

By Ted Lerner/WPA Press Officer
Photos Courtesy of Richard Walker

(Doha, Qatar)— With plenty of cueing arms shaking, nerves frazzling, and careers hanging in the balance, 32 players kept their hopes and dreams for 9-ball magnificence alive today, as the field for the Final 64 at the 2014 World 9-ball Championship finally took shape at the Al Saad Sports Club in Doha.

The race to pool’s most prestigious prize now takes on a completely different complexion beginning Wednesday, as all matches become do or die single elimination contests. The action and drama is guaranteed to heat up as the tournament will reach its sure-to-be explosive conclusion in just three days. All matches down to the final are race to 11, alternate break. The Finals, which will be played just after the completion of the semis on Friday, will be a race to 13, alternate break.

Medhi Rasekhi (Iran)
Medhi Rasekhi (Iran)

Even a passing glance at the Final 64 bracket is enough to make the most jaded pool fan stand up and take notice.  Many of the big names from the sport who came to Doha have made it through.  The field also comprises a host of up-and-coming sharp shooters who have a solid chance at becoming the sport’s next superstar. There are also dark horses aplenty who could upset the apple cart.  Even a bunch of newcomers from countries not normally associated with pool made it through, and these players too could very well make some noise.

As usual, Filipinos make up the largest contingent in the Final 64, with 11 players having passed the grade. The Taiwanese have been quietly doing their thing for the last four days and bring eight of their supremely talented players to the big dance. Europe takes up nearly half the field with 27 players.

The 32 matches played over three sessions today at the Al Saad lived up to expectations normally associated with what has come to be known as Judgement Day at the World 9-ball Championship.  This was the last chance to make it out of the groups and into to the Final 64 with all matches sink or swim.

Those not close to the sport may wonder what is the big deal exactly, as on the surface they can see there are still dozens of players left in the event. But for those who follow championship pool at this level, Judgement Day holds a special significance. Once a player escapes out of the double elimination stage with his two wins, the path to glory is laid out clear; six wins to the title, six wins to immortality.

If we eliminate perhaps one fourth of the field based on experience, that still leaves nearly 50 players who could, if the stars line up, find their way into the winners circle come Friday. Experts will say only 30 or so realistically have a chance at the title. But then again, pool is often a streak sport. Catch an incredible gear and a player nobody expected could claim a stunning victory on Friday.

That was the cherry waiting to be picked for all 64 players who entered the chilly environs of the Al Saad Sports Club today. And the results didn’t disappoint; 8 out of the 32 matches went right down to the very last ball. Careers hung on the slightest turn of a ball. Elation and crushing disappointment comingled like teenagers at a high school prom.

One of the marquee matches of the day featured Filipino pool legend Efren “Bata” Reyes against England’s Karl Boyes. The match, which was played on the main table, was watched by several hundred Filipinos and locals, all hanging on every Reyes shot.

Alex Pagulayan (CAN)
Alex Pagulayan (CAN)

Reyes didn’t disappoint early on as he looked much more calm than he did in his previous match where could barely settle down and get comfortable. But up 5-4, Reyes missed a straight in, four foot 9-ball in what could have been the worst shot he has ever played in his storied career. Before you could say the word, “Magician,” Boyes had tied the match, then pushed his lead to 8-6. Reyes, though, fought back and tied the contest at 8. But in the final frame the Filipino great let a safety go astray, and Boyes cleared up for the match.

Filipino veteran Warren Kiamco was sure he would be heading home early, as he was down 8-6 against Venezuela’s Frailin Guanipa and Guanipa had only a few balls left for a massive win. But the magnitude of the moment clearly got the better of the Venezuelan as he missed three makeable balls in three straight racks to gift Kiamco a spot in the Final 64.

Two former world champions escaped close encounters today. 2007 champ Daryl Peach of England clipped Sweden’s Tom Storm 9-8. Canadian-Filipino Alex Pagulayan, who won the world title in 2004, had a tense match against Croatia’s Ivica Putnik and won right at the end, 9-8.

Not all of today’s matches went to the cliff. Recent China Open winner Chang Yu Lung of Taiwan advanced with a 9-4 win over Vietam’s Nguyen Anh Tuan. The Philippines Lee Vann Corteza went through with a 9-4 win over Omran Salem of the UAE. Japan’s Naoyuki Oi looked solid with a 9-2 thrashing of Kuwait’s top player Omar Al Shaheen. Canada’s Jason Klatt and Italian veteran Fabio Petroni also made it with solid wins.

It was a miserable day for Team USA. Sweden’s Andreas Gerwin took down Brandon Shuff, Taiwan’s Lin Cheng Chieh beat Cory Deuel, and Korea’s Seung Woo Ryu beat Hunter Lombardo  all by identical scores of 9-7. Shane Van Boening remains the only American left in the tournament.

Some of the best moments today came from players who realistically have zero chance of winning the World 9-ball Championship, but for whom making it to the single elimination stage is victory enough.

Iran’s Mehdi Rasekhi was paired against Taiwan veteran Kuo Po Cheng, who had twice reached the finals of this very championship.  In one previous try last year, Rasekhi had nearly made it to the Final 64,  only to lose a hill-hill match.  He had also twice reached Judgement Day at the World 8-ball championship several years back, only to lose each time at the very last rack.

Against Kuo, Rasekhi, who mostly plays snooker back in Iran, played beautifully and looked like a lock as he went up 8-4 in the race to 9 match and had only three easy balls to history. But after blowing the 7-ball, he seemed to mentally collapse as Kuo stormed back. But Rasekhi held his nerve and finally crossed the finish line with a clutch break and run at the wire to make it into the Final 64.

Afterward, the 28 year old Rasekhi , from Shiraz, Iran, couldn’t believe what he had just accomplished.

Al Rimawi (UAE)
Al Rimawi (UAE)

“I was so very nervous out there,” Rasekhi said.  “He is a very good player. That last rack I just put a picture of my mother back in Iran in my head. I thought of her and it calmed me down. This is a very good thing to happen to me. I’m so happy right now.”

India is known more for its snooker and billiards but Sandeep Gulati is hoping to change that image. The 36 year old from New Delhi today became only the second ever player from India to reach the knockout stage of the World 9-ball championship, as he grinded out a hard fought win over Ukraine’s Artem Koshovyi, 9-6. After the match Gulati had the appearance of a man who had just won the lottery.

“This is just so awesome” the Indian said, “I can’t explain it. I’m at a loss for words. I come from a non-pool playing country. Only one other Indian has ever reached the top 64. I was so nervous out there. I know all my friends and family back in India are watching online. “

When asked how he would approach his round of 64 match against Taiwan’s Ko Pin Yi, who happens to be one of the world’s best 9-ball players, Gulati said it was all gravy at this point.

“I have nothing to lose. If I beat him that will be something. The moment I get on the table I am assuming I have lost. So I have no pressure. The pressure is definitely on him.”

The round of 64 begins Wednesday at 11am Doha time(GMT +3)

*The 2014 World 9-ball Championship takes place at the Al Saad Sports Club in Doha, Qatar from June 16-27. The winner of the 2014 World 9-ball Championship will receive $30,000. The runner up will receive $15,000. The total prize fund is $200,000.

The players will be competing on Wiraka New Model Tables with Simonis 860 Cloth, Electric Blue Color and using Aramith Super Pro TV Balls.

The Qatar Billiard and Snooker Federation, which is once again hosting and organizing the World 9-ball Championship, will be providing free live streaming of the entire tournament on its website, http://live.qbsf.qa/.

The view the complete brackets for the Group Stages, please CLICK HERE

The WPA will be on hand in Doha throughout this year’s World 9-ball Championship providing up to the minute information, live scoring, photographs and in depth articles with insights and analysis from WPA Press Officer Ted Lerner.

Fans can interact with us through the WPA’s official Facebook Page for the event at this link; https://www.facebook.com/wpaworld9ballchampionship

The WPA is also on Twitter; @poolwpa

For more information you can also visit the WPA website at www.wpapool.com. Fans can also visit the website of the Qatar Billiard and Snooker Federation at;  www.qbsf.qa

**The 2014 World 9-ball Championship will be held in Doha, Qatar from June 16-27,2014 and is sanctioned by the World Pool & Billiard Association(WPA), the world governing body of the sport of pocket billiards. 128 players from across the globe will compete for the most prestigious prize in Men’s Pool. The 2014  World 9-ball Championship is a WPA ranking event.

Day 4 Results
Winners qualify for the Final 64. Losers are out of the tournament

Group 1
Mario Teutscher(NED) 9 – 5 Sumit Talway(IND)
Tanaka Masaaki(JPN) 9 – 7 Erik Hjorleifson(CAN)

Group 2
Hsu Kai Lun(TPE) 9 – 7 Scott Cooney(GBR)
Dimitri Jungo(SUI) 9 – 0  Jalal Yousef(VEN)

Group 3
Alexander Kazakis(GRE) 9 – 5 Abdul Rahman Al Ammar(KSA)
Daniele Corrieri(ITA) 9 – 6 Melkonyan Babken(ROU)

Group 4
Ramil Gallego(PHL)  9- 3 Michel Bartol(CRO)
Mehdi Rasekhi(IRI) 9 – 8 Kuo Po Cheng(TPE)

Group 5
Fabio Petroni(ITA) 9 – 4 Lui Hai Tao(CHN)
Seung Woo Ryu(KOR)9 – 7  Hunter Lombardo(USA)

Group 6
Warren Kiamco(PHL) 9 – 8 Frailin Guanipa(VEN)
Stephan Cohen(FRA) 9 – 4  Abdullah Al Yusef(KUW)

Group 7
Jason Klatt(CAN) 9 – 1 Ivo Aarts(NED)
Chang Jung Lin(TPE) 9 – 1 Ko Ping Chung(TPE)

Group 8
Daryl Peach(GBR) 9 – 8 Tom Storm(SWE)
Roman Hybler(CZE) 9 – 8 Glen Coutts(NZL)

Group 9
Young Hwa Jeong(KOR) 9 – 8 Maj Al Azmi(KUW)
Karl Boyes(GBR) 9 – 8 Efren Reyes(PHL)

Group 10
Mieszko Fortunski(POL) 9 – 2 Mazen Berjaoui(LEB)
Albin Ouschan(AUT) 9 – 0 Elvis Calasang(PHL)

Group 11
Andreas Gerwin(SWE) 9 – 7 Brandon Shuff(USA)
Aloysius Yapp(SIN) 9 – 6 Mohammadali Pordel(IRI)

Group 12
Chang Yu Lung(TPE) 9 – 4 Nguyen Anh Tuan(VIE)
Francisco Felicilda(PHL) 9 – 6 Ali Obaidly(QAT)

Group 13
Lo Li Wen(TPE) 9 – 4 Petri Makkonen(FIN)
Lin Cheng Chieh(TPE) 9- 7 Corey Deuel(USA)

Group 14
Salaheldeen Al Rimawi(UAE) 9 – 8 Thomasz Kaplan(POL)
Manuel Gama(POR) 9 – 7 Israel Rota(PHL)

Group 15
Naoyuki Oi(JPN) 9 – 2 Omar Al Shaheen(KUW)
Alex Pagulayan(CAN) 9 – 8 Ivica Putnik(CRO)

Group 16
Sundeep Gulati(IND) 9 – 6 Artem Koshovyi(UKR)
Lee Vann Corteza(PHL) 9 – 4 Omran Salem(UAE)