Fisher Ousted, Japan Rolls!

Jennifer Barretta

On this first day of the Championship Rounds there were amazing comebacks and the playing contingent from Japan really showed their strength. In the very first match of the day Makiko Takagi of Japan and Meng-Meng Zhou of China kept the drama turned on high as both players had to overcome the jitters to improve as the match progressed. In the end it was advantage to Zhou as in the double-hill match she had control of the table after the break.

She didn't like her situation. She was a long way away from a tough reverse cut shot on the two ball and so she elected to push out. Takagi had a tough decision to make. If she tried to take the shot on and missed she would almost certainly never rise from her chair again. But if she gave the shot back and Zhou made it she would have to live with surrendering her only real chance at the win. The shot clock added to the pressure of the moment. She had to use her extension to buy more time and with only a few seconds left she bent to the shot and fired. The two dropped through the center of the jaws of the corner pocket and she ran the rest of the rack to progress to the next round 7-6. Score one win for Japan.

The next match-up was pre-tournament favorite Kelly Fisher of Great Britain against America's Jennifer Barretta. It appeared that Fisher was going to live up to her expectations as she led the match 5-2 going into the mandatory break after game seven. She had been playing solid as a rock while Barretta had committed several playing errors upon which Fisher capitalized for wins.

But after the break those roles were reversed. Fisher suddenly became tentative over her shots and Barretta became assertive with hers. Barretta won the next three racks running and tied the match at five apiece. In the penultimate game Jennifer was forced to run into a pack of balls and try to force the cue ball through for shape. When she went into that group she collided perfectly with the nine ball to send it into the corner and send the match to double-hill and she also owned the final break. She made a ball but had a long shot on the one in the corner. When she made that she over-ran her position on the two ball and had no choice but to attempt a kick on it in the side pocket. She played it beautifully and that shot gave her the lift she needed to complete a difficult table for the win and the upset.

The next match also saw a change in momentum. Tiffany Nelson of the USA faced Akio Otani, a qualifying tournament winner out of Japan, and put her big break to work early. She dominated the first part of the match and strolled out to a 3-1 lead. But then Otani gained control of the table and came charging back. Otani won the next five games in a row to stand on the hill at 6-3. Nelson had one more win in her but that was all Otani would allow as she took the final rack for the 7-4 victory. Another Japanese player had found the strength to progress.

The fourth match of the day saw the competitors fighting their composure as much as the table. Nerves ruled the day and neither lady could find their best game. Yukiko Haminishi of Japan and Wendy Jans of Belgium were both out of gear and Haminishi held on to her early 2-0 lead to take the match 7-5. It may have been a bit ugly, but a win counts no matter how it is achieved and Japan found their third player moving through to the next day.

Two Taiwanese players next took the field. The match was close early on, with the players trading out racks. Then Hsiang-Ling Tan grabbed a couple of games to get to the hill first, leading 6-4 over Shu-Pin Kao. Unforced errors on Tan's part gave ball-in-hand to Kao who used the first one to win game eleven and get within one. She again got ball-in-hand in the next rack when Tan miscued but she ran past her position on the six and had to play safe instead of finishing off the rack. Tan attempted to return the safe but left an open shot for Kao to plunder. Kao, normally a steady shot-maker, jawed it out of the corner to return Tan to play. Tan deposited the three remaining balls and took the win, 7-5.

A battle of generations came next. Many-time champion Shin-Mei Liu of Taipei faced young Keioko Yukawa of Japan. Liu appeared entirely at ease and coasted through the first three racks to lead the obviously less comfortable Yukawa 3-0. Liu finally left an opening in rack four when she missed the one ball and left a shot for Yukawa that led to an easy run. All went according to plan and Yukawa scored her first win to trail 3-1.

That win took the shake out of her wrist and Yukawa claimed the next rack as well after playing a safety on the six ball that gave her the opening she needed to finish out the rack. She seemed to be gaining confidence with each ball that fell.

Rack number six proved tactical as well. After the break the center of the table was barren and there were two clusters of balls grouped at the corner pockets diagonally opposite one another. The two players jabbed at one another with safety spars, each attempting to find an error in the other's stick. On and on they tiptoed off this ball and that, never disturbing the clusters. Liu stumbled first and fouled on the two ball, giving Yukawa the table with ball in hand. Yukawa moved one cluster apart as she pocketed the two and picked her way through the other to pocket the three, four and five. But she came up short on the roll she needed to shoot the six into the open corner and instead was forced to play a carom on the nine ball. She missed it badly. Shin-Mei banked the six back neatly into the corner, found the proper line on the long eight ball shot and finished off the rack. Scoreline: 4-2 in favor of Liu.

Yukawa refused to accept the dominance of Liu. When the cue ball skidded on Shin-Mei on the seven ball and scratched Keioko finished out the rack to again pull within two at 5-3. But Liu got back to the table in the next rack and rode it out to stand within one rack of the win. After a brief safety skirmish in the final rack Liu took hold of the game and ran the final four balls to take the win 7-3.

Our final two games of the night were played simultaneously for scheduling purposes. On one table American Melissa Herndon faced Sweden's Helena Thornfeldt. On the other Filipino representative Rubilen Amit was challenged by Charlotte Sorenson of Denmark. Melissa Herndon, worried earlier in the day with back pain, found a comfortable pace that carried her to the early lead 3-1. Meanwhile, Amit and Sorenson were keeping their match tight at 2-2.

Thornfeldt edged her way back into a tie with Herndon at three games apiece, but Herndon would not give in to the pressure and took the next rack for a 4-3 lead. At the same time, on table two, Rubilen Amit surged to a 5-3 lead over Sorenson. This diminutive lady is les than five feet in height but stands tall at the table and has shown herself t be a powerful horse in this race.

Then, comebacks were mounted on both tables and within moments of one another both matches stood tied at five games apiece. A life or death race to two would play out in both arenas. The battle on table two tightened even more when Amit won the next game and Sorenson followed suit with a win in the next. Yet another match would be decided by a single rack as had two earlier in the day.

On table one Thornfeldt enjoyed her first lead of the match at 6-5 and stood to break what could be her winning rack. She had to play a kick-safe on the two ball that left a long shot in the corner for Herndon. Herndon made it at the same instant as Sorenson sank the winning nine ball on the other table. Herndon wound up lining up a 5-9 combo to carry her table also to a one-rack decider, the fourth of the eight matches played today.

Herndon could not see the one after the break. She was blocked by the five ball and elected to jump. She made the hit but not the shot. Still, she could be comfortable knowing that the shot she left Thornfeldt was more easily missed than made. Thornfeldt eschewed the pocket and played a very good safe that tucked Melissa behind the two ball. Herndon again made the hit and left Thornfeldt another tough, long cut down the rail to the corner. She never even hesitated. She lined the shot up and deposited the one without ever bruising a rail. When Thornfeldt sank the four ball she also broke up a troublesome cluster but this sent the seven ball directly in her path to the five. She was forced to play a safety that again put Herndon out of sight from the object ball.

Herndon kicked off the side rail and forced Thornfeldt into a kick of her own. But she left Herndon a long shot and Melissa sank it like it had eyes. She faltered, however, on the six and missed her shot into the corner. With only four balls remaining between her and tomorrow, Helena sank the six in one corner, then the seven in the corner opposite. The eight and the nine were both deposited in the same corner pocket and Helena Thornfeldt claimed the day.

M. Tagaki d. M. Zhou 7-6
J. Barreta d. K. Fisher 7-6
A Otani d. T. Nelson 7-4
Y. Haminishi d. W. Jans 7-5
H.L. Tan d. S.P.Kao 7-5
S.M.Liu d. K. Yukawa 7-3
C. Sorenson d. R. Amit 7-6
H. Thornfeldt d. M. Herndon 7-6

Line-Ups for Saturday

Makiko Takagi (JPN) Vs. Ga-Young Kim (KOR)
Jennifer Barretta (USA) Vs. Jeannie Seaver (USA)
Akio Otani (JPN) Vs. Akimi Kajitani (JPN)
Yukiko Hamanishi (JPN) Vs. Chihiro Kawahara (JPN)
Hsiang-Ling Tan (TPE) Vs. Shu-Han Chang (TPE)
Shin-Mei Liu (TPE) Vs. Ji Won Hyun (KOR)
Helena Thornfeldt (SWE) Vs. Line Kjorsvik (NOR)
Charlotte Sorenson (DEM) Vs. Jasmin Ouschan (AUS)