Heartbreak, Walkout And Tv Snafus On Day One Of WPC

The opening day of the 2006 Philippines World Pool Championship at the magnificent playing hall of the Philippine International Convention Center on Saturday was filled with heartbreak, a dramatic walkout and a couple of snafus on television.

Hometown hero Efren “Bata” Reyes mixed some magical moments with horrendous misses and lost an 8-7 heartbreaker to young American Tony Crosby in his opening match and was in danger of being eliminated unless he won his next two matches against Poland's Radoslaw Babica who is nicknamed the “Choir Boy” and Indonesia's Roy Apancho who whipped Babica 8-1 on opening day.

A packed crowd eagerly anticipating a Reyes triumph agonized when Reyes was down 4-7 but the man regarded as the greatest pool player of all-time played a couple of magical shots to level the count at 7-7. Just when the crowd appeared ready to erupt into applause as Reyes worked his way to a straightforward shot on the 9-ball which would have given him the victory he inexplicably missed and as the ball rattled around the corner pocket the anguish appeared unbearable. Crosby who was ready to throw in his black towel as a sign of surrender couldn't believe his good fortune and covered his face for a moment before stepping up to sink the 9-ball and the spirits of millions of Filipinos.

But there was solace for some at least by the smashing victory of 2004 World Pool Champion Alex “The Lion” Pagulayan who roared to an 8-2 victory over Gustavo Espinosa of Argentina and 2002 runner-up Francisco “Django” Bustamante's nerve-wracking win over promising countryman Jharome Pena 8-7. Filipino spirits also got a lift with the rousing 8-5 victory of “Marvelous” Marlon Manalo over Canada's Nicolas Guimond and wins by veterans Rodolfo Luat and Ramil Gallego.

Fiery Earl “The Pearl” Strickland lived up to his reputation for getting into trouble with the match referee, engaging the fans in sometimes nasty exchanges and generally upsetting his opponents when he met France's Vincent Facquet. Down 4-7 Strickland started fiddling with his cue case while Facquet was at the table and was given a formal warning by referee Nigel Rees with whom Strickland has had run-ins before. The temperamental American said “I don't care, I'm out of here” before the end of the final rack forfeiting the match and giving the Frenchman an 8-4 victory.

Viewers following the action on ESPN Star Sports were taken aback when the signal suddenly went off the air. Well known Filipino TV Sports Director Dong Capinpuyan who has done major international pool tournaments called in exasperation when the signal went off in rack two of the match between Pagulayan and Espinosa and both the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” and local free TV channels NBN 4 and IBC 13 showed a replay of a World Pool League match featuring Francisco “Django” Bustamante. It turned out that the generator rented for TV was on the blink and there was no backup. But to their credit ESPN and Matchroom officials kept their composure with ESPN's Diana Chan calmly saying “these things happen” as technicians scrambled to restore power and resume the coverage after a considerable delay.

But that wasn't all. With Reyes at the table down 7-6 in his match against Crosby after winning two racks in a row, the TV cameras suddenly provided viewers of ESPN with an innocuous long shot of one of the tables on the mezzanine floor with the audio of the commentary on the Reyes match and an even worse shot of apparently a production assistant on screen for what seemed like an eternity. When the video got back to the main TV table, the rack was over and the score was 7-7.

The one other concern of both the organizers and more so the players was the obvious failure or stubbornness of spectators who moved around while play was going on, used cameras with the flash distracting the players including Reyes when he took and missed a crucial shot , chattering while play was in progress and not setting cell-phones into silent mode.

The venue was superb. The hosts gracious and the players without exception, praised the well-known hospitality of the Filipinos. But the ushers obviously lacked knowledge of the protocol of pool as they allowed people to come in and move out while play was in progress. It was only day one jitters and for sure the kinks will be ironed out and the “Thrilla in Manila II” will truly turn into a spectacular sporting event of which we could all be justifiably proud.