By: Erik Hjorleifson
This past week 139 of the best players in the world took their shot at the U.S. Open 9 ball Championships. This is one of the most prestigious titles in pool along with the World Championships and the China Open.
One thing that has always intrigued me about the Open is that there are no politics involved, you do not have to have an invite from your national association, you do not have to have a world ranking. All you need is the self belief and skill to beat the best in the world.
It must be noted that after the passing of U.S. Open founder Barry Behrman the future of the tournament could have definitely been in Jeopardy. Luckily a rightful successor in Accu-Stats Productions headed up by Accu-stats founder Pat Fleming has emerged and it seems like the future of longest running tournament in the U.S. is in safe hands.
The landscape of the U.S. Open has changed a lot in the last five years and has become a testament to the popularity and high level that the game is being played at worldwide. This year over twenty countries were represented and to my knowledge this could be the first year in history that international entries outnumbered entries from the U.S.
One thing that hasn't changed at the Open is the general format. For as long as I can remember the format has been winner breaks race to 11 on the winners and losers side. The double knockout long race format is another unique feature of the Open as most WPA international events are race to 9 preliminary stages that lead into a single knockout stage.
Play began on Sunday and ran through all the way to the following Saturday. As has been said every year for the past several years the field assembled this year was arguably once again the strongest field in the history of the 42 year event. At the risk of the article becoming to lengthy I will list some of the notable matches that brought about the final few players in this star studded field
All hill hill matches:
Babica over Immonen
Ko Pin Chung over Jones
Jiaqing Wu over Alcaide
Strickland over Owen
Ouschan over Filler
Shaw over Ko Pin Yi
Strickland over Kevin Cheng
Oi over Pagulayan
Thorpe over Biado
Chang Jun Lin over Immonen
Bergman over Morra
Kaci over Deuel
Chang Jun Lin over De Luna
Notable Performances of the week go out to first time competitors Josh filler and Jeffrey de Luna who finished 9th and 7th respectively. Corey Deuel also had a resurgent performance defeating most notably Albin Ouschan and Josh FIller among many strong victories over the week. Upstart Francisco Sanchez Ruiz had his highest finish in an international event ending up in third. Somewhat surprising was the absence of Taiwanese and Chinese players from the top ten although Chang Jun Lin and Ko Pin Chung both cracked the top six.
Nothing but praise can be given to the two finalists. I had the opportunity to watch a lot of the stream last week and the play of 19 year old Klenti Kaci was frankly astonishing. To my knowledge the only player ever of note from Albania, Kaci showed the poise of a player with twenty years of high level experience. Kaci's run out style was conservative and he seemed to hold his nerve with veins of ice, a very bright future is definitely in store for him.
For the champion Jason Shaw this is his first huge crowning achievement on american soil. The former Kuwait open champion has won an astonishing number of events hes played in the last three years, perhaps a close to unprecedented amount. Considering there are only three or four majors a year it is nice to see someone that is clearly above the field on any given day be able to perform at his best on the highest stage. Huge congrats from myself personally and Cue Sport Nation as he is a friend of the site and one of the good guys in the game.
In conclusion it was a great show last week for me the only thing lacking was tv coverage and support from the billiard industry. The fact that cannot be ignored is that most players are not fully sponsored and when after expenses only 8 players turn a decent profit the financial side of the game remains a bit of a let down. Not for Shaw though as he pocketed $40 000 for the win. The level of play is growing by the day, the game is growing internationally, I really believe in my heart things are on the upswing, only time will tell.