Select group of veterans and newcomers aim to make their mark in Doha.
(Doha, Qatar)–The long hard slog to the pool world’s most prestigious title began on Saturday here in Doha, as 128 players from nearly 35 countries began the first of six days of action that will culminate in the crowning of the next WPA World 9-ball Champion on December 14th.
124 players competing in 62 first round matches on 14 Wiraka tables saw action on Day 1 at the Al Arabi Sports Club in Doha. The players have been divided up into 16 groups of 8 playing a double elimination format, race to 9, alternate break. A player needs two wins in his group to advance to the final 64, where the format will become single elimination knockout, race to 11, alternate break, all the way to the finals. The final, which will be played along with the two semis on December 14th, will be a race to 13 alternate break.
The first thing pool fans may notice when looking at the player roster is some glaring absences for this year’s championship. American Shane Van Boening, who finished runner up here the last two years, did not make the trip. Van Boening just competed for Team USA in the Mosconi Cup in Las Vegas and opted to stay there to compete in the US Bar Table Championships. There are, in fact, only two Americans in the field this week; Hunter Lombardo and Robert Hart.
Incredibly, not a single British player has made the trip this year. The Brits have been a mainstay in the World 9-ball Championship going back nearly 20 years, but for various reasons, none have entered the event this week. Perhaps the most noticeable absences are Scotland’s Jayson Shaw and 2012 World 9-ball Champion, Darren Appleton, who had to attend to his ailing mother back in England.
Fans might notice a lack of players from rising pool playing countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. These countries had been making great strides in their pool development in recent years, but due to ongoing political issues, players from those countries were not allowed to travel to Qatar. Many talented overseas Filipino players, who work as house pros in pool halls in these countries, were also prevented from entering the event.
But while the lack of Americans and Brits, and others, may have drained some good talent from the field, it’s still clear that there are plenty of amazing, world class players on hand that will be competing for the world title.
Defending World 9-ball Champion Albin Ouschan got his 2017 campaign off to a flying start with a relatively easy 9-5 win over Qatar’s Abdulatif Alfawal. 2013 World 9-ball Champion Niels Feijen, who’s been battling a bad elbow for several months, cruised to an easy win on Saturday with a 9-0 whitewash of Bangladesh’s Ahmed Tanvir. Veteran players in Spain’s David Alcaide and Germany’s Ralf Souquet will be in action on Sunday.
Several top young Europeans are expected to make some serious noise here in Doha. 19 year old Albanian Klenti Kaci, who earlier this year won two World Pool Series events, got his first ever World 9-ball Championship off to a good start with a 9-2 win over the Maldives Mohammed Hassan. Rising Russian star Fedor Gorst, who recently won the WPA World Jr. Championship, stumbled on his first ever outing at the World 9-ball Championship, losing to Chinese veteran Liu Haitao, 9-5. Germany’s 20 year old Joshua Filler, who just a few days ago won the MVP award for Team Europe at the Mosconi Cup, will see his first action on Sunday.
Other Europeans had good starts to their 2017 campaigns. Among the first round winners on Saturday were Russians Ruslan Chinakov and Konstanin Stepanov, Poland’s Radoslaw Babica, Tomasz Kaplan and Mateusz Śniegocki, Finland’s Petri Makkonen, Greece’s Alex Kazakis, and Estonia’s Dennis Grabe. Former World 9-ball Champions Thorsten Hohmann and Mika Immonen both suffered first round loses.
The Philippines, Taiwan and China have big hopes for a high finishes this year. World number one Chang Jung Lin had a hard battle with Australia’s James Georgiadis, and prevailed, 9-6. 2015 World 9-ball Champion Ko Pin Yi took down Kuwait’s Fawaz Al Rashedi, 9-6. Ko’s younger brother, Ko Pin Chung, defeated Henrique Correia of Portugal, 9-5.
The Philippines’ Carlo Biado comes into this year’s Championship with high expectations and got off to a fine start with a 9-6 win over China’s Xu Xiao Cong. Fellow Filipinos Warren Kiamco, Jeffrey Ignacio, Johann Chua, Roland Garcia and Jeffrey De Luna all won their first round matches.
China brings its usual power lineup to the proceedings, led by former World9-ball Champion Wu Jia Qing, who beat Taiwanese veteran Yang Ching Shun, 9-5.
Group stage play continues on Sunday at the Al Arabi Sports Club beginning at 10am Doha time(GMT +3).