Kick Off Right on Script

China's He Wen Li



(Doha, Qatar)--Fans of the World 9-ball Championship have become accustomed to the fun of shocking first day upsets that send great players scrambling over to the do-or-die losers side and, at the same time, introduce us to new names from far flung nations that we had no idea produced such talented pool players.

Saturday in blazing hot Doha, Qatar was, except for one match right at the end, not one of those days.
96 players out of the 128 in the field vying for 9-ball supremacy saw action today inside the icy cold Al Arabi Sports Club, and by and large the story line for the eight hours of play hardly veered from a predictable script.  This is not to suggest that some of pool’s biggest names didn’t taste defeat. Or that we didn’t see some great new talent.  But in those matches which featured a clear favourite versus a massive underdog, 99% of the favorites came through with hardly a scratch.
The phrase “the luck of the draw” couldn’t be more apt in this case. The random draw to determine the seedings done at the players meeting on Friday night left some of the top players with clear mismatches, say against a player from Qatar, while other big names were faced with a match that could make a solid quarter-final or even a semi-final.
The latter was the case for the legend Efren Reyes of the Philippines. While the 50 or so Filipino fans who showed up to watch their hero fully expected him to win the race to 9 alternate break match, Reyes’ opponent was, even on paper, very much his current equal.  Hsu Kai Lun has been one of Taiwan’s top young guns for several years now. He even reached the finals of the 2011 China Open in Shanghai. 
Hsu raced out to a 6-0 lead as Reyes couldn’t get a good look at anything. Reyes stormed back to cut it to 6-4, but the tough Hsu hung on for a crowd-disappointing 9-5 win.
“My first break was illegal,” a smiling but disappointed Reyes said afterward. “The second one I get hooked. 3rd illegal. 5th break I get hooked. No good. I’m no lucky today.”
Even in matches where a top player was a clear favourite, they were having to wake up quick to the incredible talent that is literally everywhere these days.
Finland's Mika ImmonenDefending champion Darren Appleton was tied at 3-3 in his center table match versus 19 year old Dutch upstart Ivo Aarts.  Appleton even admitted to feeling the proverbial heat and worried that he might make a fool out of himself. He eventually won 9-4 but not before a bit of soul searching.
“He’s a good young player,” Appleton said of Aarts. “I could see he was nervous, he’s playing on the TV table, against the world champion. But I was under pressure too. Being the defending champ I wanted to perform well so I told myself to calm down, not play so quick. I broke and ran four times, and made some nice long shots, which is the key to winning this tournament. I’m happy with the way I played.”
Moments before his match with Jordan’s Naif Abdulafou, someone came up to 2001 World 9-ball champion Mika Immonen and told him that Adulafou didn’t have much game. Immonen  admitted afterwards that the message stuck into his subconscious, and he suddenly lacked that competitive nervous edge that he likes to take out on to the floor. With the score tied at 3-3, Immonen said, “I had to slap myself inside my head to get it together.” He did and won going away 9-3.
England’s Chris Melling found himself in one of those “luck of the draw matches” against one of the Philippines hottest players, Carlo Biado.  Melling, who’s been in a slump over the last year, looked anything but washed up as he played lights out pool to handily defeat Biado, 9-5.
“I played perfect,” Melling said afterward.
The Al Arabi Sports ClubAnother good matchup between two top tier players featured the Philippines’ Jeffery De Luna and Polish veteran Radoslaw Babica. De Luna, once known for having pool’s most explosive break shot, has calmed down his break and his game in the last two years. He played a solid match throughout and sent Babica over to the losers side of their group with a sweet 9-5 win.
2003 World 9-ball Champion Thorsten Hohmann is always a betting favourite coming into any major. But he drew one of Asia’s most unheralded talents in Taiwan’s Lo Li Wen. Lo, who resides in Japan, has, in the last few years, shown that he  is one of those players who is able to switch his game into high gear for the majors.  Lo looks ready to make some noise this year as he lead throughout the match and won going away, 9-4.
The Philippines come backing Marlon Manalo showed he is still a monster on the table as he walloped the USA’s Hunter Lombardo 9-4. Kuwait’s Omar Al Shaheen, who  made to the final 16 here last year and is the Middle East’s top player, got off to a fast start with a 9-3 win over Hong Kong’s Kenny Kwok. 1996 World 9-ball Champion Ralf Souquet had all he could handle from Egyptian brawler Mohamed Elassal, before pulling away for a 9-6 victory. The Netherlands Nick Van Den Berg handled the USA’s Corey Duel, 9-5. Other notable who notched convincing wins included the USA’s Shane Van Boening, the Philippine Francisco Bustamante, China’s Wu Jia Qing(formerly Wu Chia Ching), and Taiwanese Ko Pin Yi and Chang Jung Lin.
Easily the biggest shocker of the day happened right as the curtain was coming down on play on Day 1. China’s Li Hewen came within one rack of winning the world title last year. And judging by his usual consistent and high level play, he had to be considered one of the favorites coming in to this year’s tournament.
Now the bespectacled Li is fighting for his pool life after suffering a 9-6 defeat to Chile’s Enrique Rojas. And this was no fluke win for Rojas.  The 34 year old, who has appeared in this event back in 2005, 2006 and 2007, led from the start, controlled the match throughout and withstood everything Li could throw at him. Rojas, who has never qualified for the knockout rounds of a world championship, even admitted that Li was the one feeling the pressure.
Li Hewen of China“I only made two mistakes out there,” Rojas said through an interpreter. “I can see that he is getting nervous too. He was frustrated.  I’m very surprised. This is the biggest win of my pool career.”
Play in the group stages continues at 12pm local time(GMT +3) on Sunday with the remaining 32 players seeing action. Losers side matches will also take place on Sunday.
The players are divided into 16 groups of 8 players each, playing double elimination. Four players from each group will advance to the Final 64 which becomes a single elimination knockout with race to 11, alternate break. The finals, which will take place on September 13th, will be a race to 13.
The winner of the 2013 World 9-ball Championship receives $36,000. The runner up will pocket $18,000. The total prize fund is $250,000.
*The World Pool-Billiard Association(WPA)  will be on hand in Doha throughout the week bringing you all the drama from the 2013 World 9-ball Championship. WPA Press Officer Ted Lerner will be reporting from the Al Arabi Sports Club with daily articles containing insight, interviews and analysis, as well as photos. Ted will also be manning the WPA Facebook page and Twitter feed and responding to fans queries and comments. Fans can also follow all matches via the WPA live scoring platform. 
For updated group brackets follow CLICK HERE
Please visit the WPA Facebook page for the 2013 World 9-ball Championship here