The final 64 single elimination field is set for a sprint to the World 9-ball crown over the next three days.
It’s time to get down to the serious business end of things in Doha, as the field of 128 has been cut in half after three days of group play at the 2017 World 9-ball Championship. From here the remaining 64 players will engage in a three day sprint to pool’s most prestigious title. Whoever wins six straight matches will be crowned the new WPA World 9-ball Champion on December 14th.
There was no escaping the tension on Monday inside the cavernous Al Arabi Sports Club as all 32 matches played were do-or-die. “Judgment Day” as it’s known in pool circles always brings out the drama as players, many of them who could just as easily find themselves lifting the title, scramble for their pool playing lives trying to escape the always dreaded group stages. One single roll of the ball could spell the difference between total disaster and a life changing run at glory.
Myanmar’s Maung Maung is not one player pool fans would expect to be a serious contender over the next few days. But the 23 year old ex-snooker player, who has lived and practiced in Beijing, China for the last three years, certainly turned some heads yesterday with a scintillating performance against the Philippines talented Johann Chua. Chua, who recently won the All Japan Championship in Osaka a few weeks back, is one Filipino player many fans thought might make a run at the title this year. But the sharp shooting Pinoy never had a chance as Maung cruised to an impressive 9-3 win. It’s the first time in the history of the World 9-ball Championship that a player from Myanmar has made it to the knockout rounds.
Die hard Filipino fans need not worry, however, as seven other Pinoys passed the grade and made it through to the knockout rounds. On Monday, veteran Warren Kiamco, Roland Garcia, and Qatar based Israel Rota and Francisco Felicilda all won handily to punch their tickets to the Final 64. There they’ll join Carlo Biado, Jeffrey De Luna and Jeffrey Ignacio in the quest for pool glory. A Filipino has not won the World 9-ball Championship since legend Francisco Bustamante pulled off the feat here in Doha in 2010.
In terms of numbers via country, the Taiwanese are the clear winners at this point. 10 Taiwanese make up the final 64, including world number one Chang Jung Lin, and 2015 World 9-ball Champion Ko Pin Yi. The pressure of Judgement Day certainly didn’t affect the Taiwanese as four players made it through including Lo Li Wen, Nien Rong Chih, Hsieh Chia Chen and Yu Li Si. The only Taiwanese player not to make it through yesterday was Cheng Yu Hsuan, who just happened to be up against a compatriot, Lo Li Wen.
The Polish side has been quietly putting in a stellar performance in this year’s championship with six Poles qualifying for the final 64. On Monday, players from Poland stepped up big time, going 4-1 for their best performance perhaps ever. Winners included Mateusz Sniegocki, Mieszko Fortunski, Wojciech Szewczyk, and Wiktor Zielinski. Zielinkski, it should be noted, is just 16 years old and is one of the rising stars on the European pool playing circuit, having recently won a Euro Tour event.
The Chinese team also cashed in their chips on Monday with four out of six winning and going through. Team China will have 5 players competing for the title starting today. One noted player who will not be among them, however, is former World 9-ball Champion, Wu Jiaqing. Wu fell to 21 year old Swede Daniel Tangudd, 9-5 and was eliminated from the event.
Prominent Europeans who made it through on Monday include two time World 9-ball Champion Thorsten Hohmann of Germany, 2015 World 9-ball Champion Niels Feijen, Spain’s David Alcaide, and Russia’s Ruslan Chinakhov.
One player that seems to have caught the eye of many fans around the world is Canada’s John Morra. Two years ago Morra was a definite rising star in the pool world, and proved it by reaching the quarterfinals at the World 9-ball Championship in Doha in 2015. Morra then briefly stepped away from the game only to return with a renewed hunger for the winner’s circle. Several months back he won the Canadian 9-ball championship which won him a paid trip to Doha. Yesterday, Morra took down Argentina’s Arial Castro, 9-6, to advance to the knockout rounds. Nobody in the pool world would be surprised if the talented Canadian makes some serious noise over the next few days.
“Today I played pretty well,” a refreshed looking Morra said after qualifying. “I’m over the jet lag and I feel pretty well. The last few months I’ve been playing really well. I’ve been traveling all over the US. I got in some big money matches. I got the hunger back. I had lost it last year. I didn’t feel like playing the game. I had problems in my neck and I was stressed. I’m an emotional player. But right now I feel great and I’m motivated. I feel I can go all the way.”
Play in the round of 64 begins at 10am Doha time(GMT +3.) The round of 64 and 32 will be played today, with 16 players remaining at the end of the three sessions.
All matches will be race to 11, alternate break. The final on Thursday will be a race to 13, alternate break.