One thing is becoming clear as the pool tour visits more and more countries, there is a huge global pool community to explore. The latest stop on the wnt (World Nineball Tour) was in Northwestern Spain in the beautiful historic city of Lugo in the Galicia region. It has a population of around 100,000 people. I'm not sure how many pool fans but the ones that turned up to watch the latter stages of the 256 field of players from all over the world were certainly in a party mood, helped maybe by a festival happening at the same time in Lugo, which is the only city in the world to be surrounded by a completely intact Roman wall.
Well, for six days, I was imprisoned in my room glued to Matchroom's coverage of the event that had its fair share of shocks, anyone who's anyone from the top pool players in the world to locals who just wanted the chance to play against one of their idols, and there were even a couple of snooker players chancing their arm also, Gary Wilson from the North East of England showed he can play the game as he defeated a cueless James Aranas early on sending the Filipino to the one-loss side, (His cues have arrived in time for the upcoming World Cup doubles), Gary also went on to beat Austria's Mario He before Mario got revenge in the last 64 as the redraw brought the two back together again, but Gary had his chances in the rematch, too but missed two of the easiest nine balls I have EVER seen, including my own. It was good to see Gary hang around to watch the final and get into the party mood and was seen in the front row during both semi-finals and the final with two mates all wearing togas to celebrate the festival.
There were a couple of comebacks as well post covid; the long-awaited return of Wu Jia Qing returned to the pool arena and looked like he'd never been away, and another much-missed talent from China, Dang Jin Hu, made his debut in a big Matchroom 9 ball event, Fedor Gorst, after an enforced hiatus from the tour, also got his cues out to finally rejoin the wnt, and the name Kaci we are all familiar with, but this time the UK open champion showed up in Spain with his not-so-little Brother Kledio, who showed pool runs in the genes as the 17-year-old prodigy made it to the last 16 before being beaten by UK semi-finalist Skyler Woodard. Sky would make it to the semi-finals for the 2nd wnt event in a row and came up against the guy who sent him to the one-loss side earlier in the tournament, Dang Jin Hu, and the 36-year-old player from the People’s Republic of China completed the double over the double MVP Mosconi cup player to reach his first Matchroom Final. There he would play Dutchman Marc Bjisterbosch, who was involved in an epic hill-hill semi-final with Pijus Labutis, who had in a previous round come back from 5-1 down against Albin Ouschan to win that one on the hill also.
The Vietnamese showed they are a real future force to be reckoned with as Duong Quoc Hoang had another great event knocking out Max Lechner and then Bucharest open champion Konrad Juszczyszyn (I am so grateful for copy/Paste).
World number 1 Francisco Sanchez Ruiz was involved in another last rack decider against Hungarian Oliver Szolnoki, and at hill-hill FSR missed a nine-ball down the rail, one which you'd expect him to make, but he showed us he is human as maybe the pressure of being the local favourite was just too much to bare and he went crashing out on day 4. This left him free, though, to be the gracious host of his own FSR Spanish Junior championships. These are a feature now at all wnt open events, which have crowned young champions so far at the US Open championship in the SVB junior event; Khalid Alghamdi, the Jayson Shaw Junior event held alongside the UK Open at London's Copper Box Arena won by Maks Benko, and the young guy who walked away with a cheque for $2,500 in the FSR Junior event in Lugo was Hong Kong Chinese player Fu Huan who when asked what he would do with the money said he would take his coach Wayne Griffiths, (Son of 1979 Snooker World Champion Terry Griffiths) and his friends and fellow Hong Kong team representatives Robbie Capito and Ho Lo Sum for dinner, how sweet is that?
Some memorable moments from the first Spanish open for me were the stand-out performances from Sky Woodward, who whitewashed Ko Pin Yi in the quarter-finals, Marc Bjisterbosch reaching his 1st ever Matchroom final along with Pijus Labutis, Emil Andre Gangflot's run in the tournament knocking out Joshua Filler along the way, we never had any orange powder or bottles of beer thrown onto the table in deciding racks (If you don't know what I'm talking about click here https://www.facebook.com/100002705356355/videos/247039954716061/ but we did have a Daft Invader, Gareth Esprit, who showed up to play SVB in what looked like grim reaper meets Darth Vader costume, but his antics never had any effect on the five times US open champion as he won the battle of the 'Stars war.'
Another memorable moment from this event was something nobody could control, the weather. I heard many players talking about very difficult playing conditions because of the humid atmosphere and the tight pockets; I believe in the theory that whoever adapts the best and the fastest to the conditions will go the furthest.
All in all, it was a magnificent, spectacular show in Lugo, the final between Marc Bijsterbosch and Dang Jin Hu was probably the most entertaining final I have ever seen, two very talented players in a gladiatorial comedy show full of fun with a dash of drama here and there but played in fantastic spirit in front of a fantastic crowd that helped bring this event to a crescendo including great music, audience participation and I have to say I loved the master of ceremonies, how cool was David Gutierrez?
Congratulations to Dang Jin Hu. He played the best pool over the six days; he has definitely made a lot of new fans, including me, Marc Bjisterbosch has broken that duck, and we will see a lot more of him in arenas around the world, and I must admit I am now a big fan of his also, I want to see your party trick though Marc, video evidence, please!
"I have to say Karl Boyes is becoming quite the presenter. I did have a laugh, though, during his interview with Dang, as his interpreter stood there, he didn't understand Karls Blackpool accent. Maybe you need to get an interpreter for him also.
Jeremy Jones, Phil Yates, and Michael McMullen gel very well. I liked the way they switched between tables and showed the split screen at crucial moments. Just one suggestion, I know it’s about budget, but the silence on Table 2 is very frustrating and could really use some full-time commentary. I know just the guy".
So Matchroom has done it again; next up, starting Tuesday 27th, is the World Cup of Pool, my favourite format, Scotch doubles. Thirty-two teams from 31 countries, Spain as the host country, gets two teams, reigning champions David Alcaide and FSR, and Spain B’s Jonas Souto Comino partnering with Jose Alberto Delgado.
Spain A will kick things off in the first match against the Philippines.