Only Eight Left Standing!

Yukiko Hamanishi

The sweet sixteen round got underway today at the Amway WPA Women's World Nine Ball Championship in Taipei. With all eight matches to be played on the television table our first match featured Ga-Young Kim of Korea facing Makiko Tagaki of Japan. Kim, one of the top eight seeds, had the day off yesterday and came into the match rested and jovial. Tagaki came into the arena appearing stiff, twisting her back from side to side as if to ward off an untimely spasm trespassing her back.

This one was the Ga-Young show from start to finish. Kim won every safety exchange between the two and owned the first two racks. When she made the nine ball on the snap in rack three she held a three point lead that she extended with a break and run in rack four and a three-nine combination in rack five. After allowing Tagaki to the table only briefly in rack six she took that one as well and stood one game away from victory while Tagaki had not as yet moved a bead.

In the next rack Tagaki had a glimmer of light cast her way when Kim missed the one ball and brought her to the table. Tagaki took out the rack through the seven and then missed a bank shot on the eight. But Kim scratched on her next effort and Tagaki breezed the simple eight and nine for her first point. The light for Tagaki lasted only briefly. Tagaki scratched on the next break and fouled on a safety left her by Kim. Ga-Young sailed through the remaining balls to become the first player to qualify for play on the final day.

Next on stage were two Americans, Jennifer Barretta and Jeannie Seaver. This match became a tug of war with neither cueist able to put together a string of racks. Momentum and fortune swung from side to side as the breaks were producing clustered tables that thwarted runs. The match remained tied throughout. We were tied at one game apiece, then two, three, four, and five. Barretta got to the hill first, but then fouled when she did not drive a rail on a safety on the two ball and Seaver had an opportunity to gain control at the critical moment in the match.

She was making her way through the rack when she hung the six ball in the corner. But fortune played a role here and Barretta was snookered behind the eight ball. When Barretta failed to make the hit Seaver applied the ball in hand advantage to finish the rack and tie us again, this time at six apiece and the championship was once again presented with a one-game decider as had so often occurred throughout the earlier rounds..

Seaver had been hitting her break shots poorly the entire match, sliding off the side of the one ball rather than striking it full in the face. On this, her final break, that error bit her badly as she scratched in the corner. But the table was ugly with most of the balls still gathered about the rack area. When Barretta failed to pot the two-nine combo Seaver had another shooting opportunity. All that was available was a two-five carom and she put that away neatly.

The two and the three balls both fell in opposite corners and the four co-operated at the other end of the table. Now the table had opened up and the run to the finish line was obvious. Seaver connected the dots and went forward to the next round as Barretta was left to ponder rolls and fate.

Our next match was also an intra-country rivalry as Japanese players Akio Otani and Akimi Kajitani came to the felt battlefield. The experience of Kajitani soon blossomed as she took a commanding lead and held it. Otani won the first rack but then could only bear witness to the power within Kajitani's cue. Showing no hesitation Kajitani stretched out to a comfortable 6-1 lead.

To her credit, Otani never gave up. She gained the table in rack eight and took it home by mastering a very difficult layout. But trailing now 6-2 her task was nigh on impossible. Kajitani held the advantage that a comfortable lead supplies and played a masterful safety on the one ball that Otani could not negotiate successfully. She made the hit but left a shot and Kajitani appeared ready to pounce on victory. Uncharacteristically, Kajitani lost focus briefly on the seven ball and missed the shot. Otani could not, however, see a pocket from the position the seven ball assumed beside the eight and when that effort failed Kajitani cleared the table for a forceful 7-2 victory.

This was followed by another all-Japan matchup as Yukiko Hamanishi came out against Chihiro Kawahara. Both of these are powerful players and their match was highlighted by magnificent shot-making. This would be another close match as again we saw the scoreline tied at one, two and three games apiece. In rack seven Hamanishi stumbled when she missed a four ball that she thought she owned. But Kawahara returned the favor by leaving the nine ball available after a tough cut attempt and Hamanishi took the game that she thought she had given away.

Kawahara did not dwell on the error. She regrouped quickly and took the next rack to tie us again at four games apiece. Kawahara came up dry on her break but left a mess on the table with six balls all grouped together around one corner. Hamanishi caromed off the one to make the four, then attempted another carom on the nine that barely failed. Kawahara would not fail in her carom attempt and dropped the nine to gain a narrow 5-4 lead.

Kawahara broke and approached the first shot but her hair touched a ball as she leaned in to shoot and a foul was called. That would not be her only error of the game. She got back to the table and was headed for a win but scratched when she sank the eight to grant Hamanishi an easy win to tie the match again at five apiece. When Kawahara missed the seven ball in the next rack Hamanishi completed the table to be the first to stand on the brink. Hamanishi fell short on her effort to make a jump shot on the two ball in the next rack. But the two ball also eluded the efforts of Kawahara to send it to gravity and Hamanishi returned to the table.

There was a tough situation to navigate. The seven and eight were tied up off-angle on the side rail. All Hamanishi could do was attempt a very difficult combination shot. The shot never threatened a pocket and Kawahara gained the opportunity to send the match to double-hill. Kawahara succeeded and the audience prepared itself for another in what seemed an endless succession of one-rack decisions. Kawahara had her cue ball kissed into the side pocket on the break and Hamanishi faced the last rack with ball in hand. Both players traded misses on the four ball. But Hamanishi missed it a second time and scratched so Kawahara had ball in hand with only five balls remaining topside. Kawahara appeared to be successfully completing the remaining journey but hung the nine ball. Hamanishi accepted the gift and the win 7-6.

Our fifth pairing featured Hsiang-Ling Tan and Shu-Han Chang, both of Chinese Taipei. These two traded the first couple of racks before Chang mounted a charge by taking the next two racks, the second with a nifty three-nine combination shot. After the two players exchanged another two racks our score stood at 4-2 in favor of Ms. Chang. When Tan got control of the table again in the next rack she played solid, consistent pool to first erode, then erase the gap between them, Tied at four apiece, we again appeared headed for a dramatic final chapter.

Chang, who had been strong in the initial racks, began to weaken as Tan's game began to peak. Tan owned the next two racks to get to six games and needed only one more fallen nine ball to move on. Chang made every attempt to claw her way back in to the match. Still, her aggression appeared tepid, uncertain. She engaged Tan in a safety war that displayed little imagination from either side. When Chang left the six ball clearly open Tan shooed it from the table and cleared the rack for the win 7-5.

Ji Won Hyun of Korea had a sizeable hurdle to clear. She was pitted against Taiwan's Shin-Mei Liu, a veteran of televised matches and an unshakable cueist. Liu easily cruised through the first two racks and ran down to an unremarkable shot on the nine when she committed an uncharacteristic error and missed. Hyun potted the nine and had a brief glimmer of light, a chance. She was gifted another nine ball on another Liu hiccup in game seven.

That would be the only comfort she would find this day. She was forced to fold like a flower in an early snow as Liu flew into Sunday on large wings, 7-2.

For scheduling purposes the final two matches were played simultaneously. On table one Charlotte Sorenson of Denmark was opposite Jasmin Ouschan of Austria and on table two Sweden's Helena Thornfeldt faced another Northern European, Line Kjorsvik of Norway.

When Jasmin Ouschan first came on the scene she was a young prodigy of fifteen years, one of those youngsters who might make a game of it or who may as likely disappear into the woodwork. She has far from disappeared. Now a mature and seasoned professional at age twenty, she arrived at this point in the tournament with an unblemished record, never knowing a loss.

But like Liu before her she came up short on shape on a nine ball and gave the first game away by leaving the prize ball near a corner pocket. It was Sorenson who came out of the gate with the early lead. Ouschan soon made up the ground and took the next two racks to go out in front 2-1. Sorenson was not ready to retire, however, and when she potted the nine in rack four to tie the game it was obvious she had regrouped from the sloppy victory she had endured the night previous when she outlasted her opponent by simply making a few less errors.

On her table, Kjorsvik was controlling everything. She kept Thornfeldt seated for the first three racks as she conducted a break and run show to lead the Swede 3-0. Thornfeldt doesn't think much of trailing. She waged a tactical war to even the score at three apiece before the tide turned against her and Kjorsvik kept finding ways to send the balls home. Making critical shots when she needed, Kjorsvik won the next three racks to lay ever so close to home at 6-3.

On table one Ouschan found a higher gear to run. She denied any further opportunities to Sorenson and won the rest of the racks with a deadly arm and a quickening pace. She took the victory 7-2.

Things on table two were getting tense. Thornfeldt controlled the table and appeared determined to win the day. She was playing thoughtful, certain pool and won game ten to bring the score to six to four. She broke and ran the next rack to pull the score to 6-5, but scratched on her next break. Kjorsvik ran through the first six balls with ease but failed to get shape on the seven, snookering herself behind the eight. She kicked into the good hit but left a shot for Thornfeldt to try.

Thornfeldt ran the seven down the long rail into the corner but was forced to settle for a tough cut on the eight. When the eight fell she had natural shape on the nine and we went to double-hill.

Thornfeldt made a ball on the snap but faced a tough shot on the one that she missed. That sealed her fate as Kjorsvik finished out the key rack to retire the affable Swede 7-6.

G.Y. Kim d. Makiko Tagaki 7-1
Jeannie Seaver d. Jennifer Barretta 7-6
Akimi Kajitani d. Akio Otani 7-2
Yukiko Hamanishi d. Chihiro Kawahara 7-6
Hsiang-Ling Tan d. Shu-Han Chang 7-5
Shin-Mei Liu d. Ji Won Hyun 7-2
Line Kjorsvik d. Helena Thornfeldt 7-6
Jasmin Ouschan d. Charlotte Sorenson 7-2

Quarter-Final Line-Ups

Ga-Young Kim Vs. Jeannie Seaver
Akimi Kajitani Vs. Yukiko Hamanishi
Hsiang-Ling Tan Vs. Shin-Mei Liu
Line Kjorsvik Vs. Jasmin Ouschan