A quiet man from Montevideo (and San Diego)


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on April 19, 2014

Bert van ManenThe now 7-time national champion of the USA, Pedro Piedrabuena, has not shown his face in Antalya, Hurghada or Suwon in years. I fully understand his reasoning: he has a business to run, plane tickets cost an arm and a leg, and the prize money is pathetic. But still: what a shame it is. His general average in Houston last week (1.892) was not just “good”. It was extraordinary, would easily put him in the world’s top 10 if it was his regular playing strength. I think it’s too early to consider him a 1.9 player, but certainly a good time to give him due praise.

Pedro Piedrabuena is 42, and he’s been around longer than you may realize. He’s a soft-spoken and mild-mannered guy, a gentleman and a sportsman. Very easy to get along with, but hard to fathom. Evasive answers come naturally to him, he lives inside his own head, and he’s comfortable there. Even fifteen years ago, it was obvious that he was very talented, a diamond in the rough then. We were really forced to take notice in 2000, when he made quite an impression in a Carom Corner Tour event that took place in Tucker, Georgia. Piedrabuena beat Ceulemans (30-18 in 14/13) and also Blomdahl (30-14 in 18). He finished third in the event, behind winner Sayginer and runner-up TB, with a general average of 1.631. “The tournament of my life”, he said back then. It may have been, but not for long.

The BWA Grand Prix in Barendrecht, the Netherlands in 2001 would be the next big step for him. He walked a tightrope in the qualifications, winning 15-14 and 15-13 against a Frenchman. Did that again in the first round of the main tournament, beating Richard Bitalis 15-14 in the 5th set. Then a 3-0 win over his third Frenchie, J.C. Roux, a 3-2 win over Andreas Efler, and a semi-final victory over Dick Jaspers: 3-1. He found himself in the final against TB, who overpowered him 3-1 (1.818 v. 0.833). It was a remarkable performance nevertheless, for a relative unknown at the time.

Another milestone in 2002: In South Gate, California, Piedrabuena ended the 12-year reign of Sang Chun Lee as USA national champion. Truth be told, Sang Lee played poorly that week, not even 1.2. But the final was convincing, from Pedro’s point of view: he beat the great man 50 -25 in 24 innings, helped by a run of twelve. Several others (Patino, Jae Cho, Torres, Shooni, Sonny Cho) would win the US title after that, but Pedro was now very much the dominant figure in American 3-cushion, with titles added in 2004, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Shortly after his breakthrough success in Barendrecht, he spent several months playing the Dutch league for a team in Amsterdam. Expectations were high, and his first match was a win over Caudron with 2.000 average. It turned out to be an unremarkable (half) season after that, PP playing at a disappointing 1.150 pace, and he didn’t finish the season.

His new priority (and who could blame him?) was his billiard room in Seattle. No more World Cups, just the occasional World Championship (he could not make an impression in Antwerp 2013), and the annual Confederational event (which he won last year). The most recent world ranking list tells the whole story: 8 points for Antwerp 2013, 30 for his USA title, and 80 for the CPB win, no other points. He’s 24th on the list, and it is obvious that he would at least have a shot at a top-12 position, if he played every World Cup. The days of 1.150 are long behind him, he has been steady around 1.500  for the last six or seven years, and now there is that very impressive 1.892 from Houston.

Let’s not forget to mention that other major title, the Verhoeven Open in New York, 2012. Not an easy tournament to win, and not an easy opponent in the final. Pedro beat Blomdahl there and then, outfoxing him 40-37 in 29. He played so well, tactically, to make life hard for the fast-scoring Swede. You have to use whatever weapons you have, if you are the underdog. It’s how Michael Chang beat Lendl and Edberg at Roland Garros in 1989, it’s how mega-underdog Greece became European soccer champions in 2004. Play your game, don’t let them play theirs.

One of Pedro’s weapons is his ability to put his opponent to sleep. Performing almost exclusively in tournaments without a clock, he can slow matches down to the speed of a snail on valium. His opponent gets frustrated and impatient, he himself never seems to lose his calm or his concentration. I do wonder how he would average in matches to 40 or 50 with a 40 second clock, it’s impossible to say really. Some slow-ish players adapt, some struggle. Back in the day, Jaspers was considered a turtle, but he has played monster averages and won tournaments with a 40 second clock on many occasions. Today’s slowest top player, Jeremy Bury, has risen to the 3d place of the world ranking (Oct. 2013) with a clock ticking in every match. Still, I have my doubts about Pedro if he only had 40 seconds. Unlike Bury, who does not need the time but uses it anyway, Pedro seems to make his high runs on the power of thought more than anything else. Is it systems he is applying in his head? Is it defense he’s thinking about, or stroke, or position? I really want to ask him these things one time, because players who are THIS good owe us a little peek into their brain from time to time. Pedro, my friend, what is going through your head when you are standing there for minutes? Hit the ball, will you? You’re bloody good at it.