Drago is World Pool Masters Champ

Drago is World Pool Masters Champ

Confirming his credentials as a world-class cue man, Malta's Tony Drago defeated Hui-kai Hsia of Taiwan by 8 - 6 to lift the 2003 World Pool Masters title after a tense battle at the Hotel Zuiderduin, Egmond aan Zee, Holland.

Drago, who reached the semi-finals of the WPA World Pool Championship earlier in the summer, had beaten Alex Pagulayan, Nick van den Berg and Earl Strickland en route to the final.

However with the pressure mounting in the final match he was certainly going to be asked some stiff questions by the razor sharp Hsia, who had earlier made light work of Niclas Bergendorff, Thorsten Hohmann and then Alex Lely in the semi-final.

With the event well supported by a growing Dutch pool contingent, both players made their way into the arena through the palls of dry ice. It was Drago's first major pool final but having come so far in the event he was determined as ever as he won the lag by a hair's breadth.

Setting his stall out early, Drago broke and ran out the opener but a scratched off the break in the next to let Hsia in to open his account. The Taiwanese player then moved into the lead as he cleared from the break but in the next game he left a 3 ball on for Drago who took full advantage to achieve parity.

Tony made three balls on the break but was forced to push out after being hooked on the 2 ball. Hsia rolled it in but found himself hooked behind the brown 7. He masséd his way out of trouble but the tip of his cue nudged the brown to give Drago ball in hand from where he dished up to go into the lead at 3 - 2.

Another lightning fast break and run from Tornado Tony put him further ahead at 4 - 2 and more of the same in the seventh game saw him increase his lead to 5 - 2.

Drago was on fire in the next as he broke the balls and ran out in barely a minute and at 6 - 2, the winning line was getting closer.

However, a dry break in the next let Hsia back to the table but he could only play safe. Eventually, though, Drago snatched at a long cut on the 1 ball and missed to let a nervy looking Hsia complete the clearance to win the rack and go to 6 - 3.

Hsia broke and ran out in the next and as the match came to the closing stages both players were feeling the pressure. Hsia also took the next after Drago, perhaps sensing his chance of victory slip away, snatched at too many balls when they became available.

At 6 - 5 behind, Hsia broke off but with two balls down he had no shot on the 1 ball. He played safe but Drago played his fourth consecutive poor shot to leave Hsia a very tough bridge over the 9 ball. He made the 1 ball superbly but missed a long 2 ball to let Drago in. Despite his obvious nerves, he held on to clear and get to the hill at 7 - 5.

Drago crashed home the break shot and saw four balls drop but his nerves got the better of him as he ran out of position with just three balls remaining. Safety play followed, and it was Hsia who cracked first but Drago could not cash in as he missed an easy long 5 ball to give the Taiwanese a lifeline. He took it and moved to 7 - 6.

In what was to be the final rack, it was Hsia who made the mistake as a delicate safety shot after the break fell fractionally short and allowed Drago to roll a long angled two ball into the top pocket. From there he composed himself and ran the remaining balls to become 2003 empirepoker.com World Pool Masters champion.

For Drago it was the end of what was a lucrative summer of pool. His winners cheque of $20,000 coupled with his World Championship prize-money of £17,500 adds up to a tidy sum.

Drago is one of cue sports emotional characters and he was absolutely delighted to have bagged pool's most prestigious invitational event.

"I've been playing 9-ball for six years now and I just love the game. When I'm not playing snooker I practice six hours a day and I'm a real 9-ball player.

"To win this is something else for me. I enjoyed it so much and the crowd here were fantastic - the best in the world. I'm starting to play more and more and 9-ball will be a big part of my future."

A deflated Hsia, who earned $10,000 for his efforts, admitted he had not performed as well as he could: "I'm very disappointed, I didn't do my best, he said.

"As an Asian, it's a pleasure to be invited to events like this and I wanted to do as well as I could so I hope I get other chances as I'm not satisfied.

"The conditions got more smoky and warm and I couldn't concentrate properly but I enjoyed it. The crowd were more in his favour than mine but that's understandable and now I go to the Asian Masters in Beijing for my next tournament.

"The crowd are a little bit crazy and very passionate and I really enjoyed coming over here to play - but I was sorry I didn't win."