Rising Stars Of Philippine Pool

While the legendary Efren “Bata” Reyes, the 1999 World Pool Champion, known around the world as “The Magician” because of his incredible shot- making has been installed top favorite by British bookmakers and his bosom buddy and last year's runner-up Francisco “Django” Bustamante a second choice, three rising young stars from the Philippines are making a name for themselves in Cardiff.

27 year old snooker ace Marlon Manalo who is making his debut at the World Pool Championship remained undefeated after all seven matches that included a nerve-wracking 5-4 triumph over 2001 World Pool Champion Mika Immonen who recently won the Philippines-Europe 9-Ball tournament beating Ralf Souquet 13-12 in an epic final.

Lee Van Corteza, 24, made short work of former US Open champion Corey Deuel before losing to Busan 2002 Asian Games gold medallist Young-Haw Jeong 1-5 while Dennis Orcullo also 24 years old opened with a four- match run before dropping one to Marcus Chamat a frequent Manila visitor and a member of the Mosconi Cup champion team 4-5.

Manalo has played some scintillating pool so far and nobody could be happier than Billiards and Snooker Congress of the Philippines (BSCP) secretary general Joaquin Perez de Tagle.

De Tagle recalls that Manalo, a wisp of a boy of 15, tried out for the Philippine team to the 1991 Southeast Asian Games in Manila and finished 13th, failing to make the 12-man pool. De Tagle convinced then Philippine Sports Commission chairman Cecil Hechanova to include Manalo in the pool. He spoke to the young boy and told him he hadn't a chance of making it to the top with the likes of Reyes, Bustamante, Rodolfo Luat and Leonardo Andam who dominated pool in the country at that time. Instead he suggested that Manalo take up snooker.

The 15 year old not only listened to good advice he made the No. 1 spot on Philippine Team. Manalo stunned world snooker champion Nopadorm of Thailand in the finals en route to a four gold medal haul. In 2000, Manalo won the Asian snooker championship in Hong Kong in a final that de Tagle remembers “lasted some ten hours.” That gave the BSCP secretary general an indication of the composure and the relentless attitude of Manalo.

In the 2001 World Games in Akita, Japan, Manalo won the silver medal and on his return to Manila decided it was time to “seriously” take up the game of pool.

This year he won the Bali Open and finished runner-up in a couple of local tournaments. In his most recent appearance prior to Cardiff, Manalo lost a cliffhanger to Warren Kiamco.

De Tagle told AzBilliards that Manalo “wanted very much to go to Cardiff” and the secretary general figured “it will make him mentally tough and prepare him for the future.” Manalo was named along with Kiamco, Lining and Corteza since the BSCP was given a quota of four players straight into the 128 players in the group stage of the World Pool Championship. Their trip was funded by the Philippine Sports Commission. Orcullo had to work his way through the qualifying tournaments.

Manalo has impressed fans with some scintillating pool and going into the final day of the group matches had a five-match winning streak which included an opening day win over Charlie “The Korean Dragon” Williams 5-3, a 5-4 conquest of Rob McKenna and a 5-4 triumph over Immonen in a enthralling encounter on Day 2 and a 5-4 victory over Canada's Jeff Kennedy along with a 5-0 rout of Puerto Rico's Alan Rolon on Day 3.

Both Lee Van Corteza and Orcullo won their first four matches before suffering their initial setbacks with Corteza losing 1-5 to last year's Busan Asian Games gold medallist Young-Hwa Jeong and Orcullo losing a close match 4-5 to frequent Manila visitor Marcus Chamat of Sweden, a member of the Mosconi Cup champion team of Europe.

De Tagle believes that as far as Manalo is concerned “the sky's the limit” citing not just his tremendous skill but perhaps more importantly his “discipline and dedication and his determination to succeed.”