As so often, the scoreboard was lying


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on September 20, 2014

Bert van ManenThe World Cup in Porto did not have a dull moment. It was top entertainment all week, and both finalists deserve a lot of credit. Forthomme had been away from the podium since 2006 (!), but he proved he’s still a major player. He won from (far) behind twice, eliminated Caudron and was just a kiss away from his third World Cup victory. Jaspers had not won since 2011 (Lima), and he must have been so relieved. Two miraculous wins, the first a shootout against Vietnamese revelation Tran (40-40, then 9-3), the second against Roland the lion, 40-39 the final score. Yes, he was saved by an unlucky kiss at match point for Forthomme. But what a superb run of four did he come up with, to win the title! Second and third point, both extremely demanding positions, played with exemplary technique and great courage.

Still, the match of the week, the one that I remember best is not the final. It’s the semi between  Roland Forthomme and Peter Ceulemans. Son of you-know-who? No, grandson. Peter is the son of Koen, he calls Kurt his uncle and has a brother (Bart) who also knows how to handle a cue. Peter was of course born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he’s won people over by pulling his own weight and not going through life relying on his last name. He’s a very accomplished player, even if he is not a Frédéric or a Torbjörn, and most importantly, not a Raymond. Obviously, he has made his peace with that, and I salute him for it. To make sure I saw what I thought I saw, I watched the match again on Kozoom.

Peter was out of the blocks much quicker than Roland. He had a 13-3 lead (in 4), then 22-5 at the interval (in 8). Roland got back into it with a run of 12 in the 9th inning, and added 2 and 4 in the 10th and 11th. Peter’s production stopped, and Roland won it with 5-8-1 in the last three innings: 31-40 in 20.  So this is what you are tempted to say, in commentary: “Ceulemans had a great start, but could not keep up that dazzling high level of play. The more experienced Forthomme took control of the match in the second half, and cruised to the finish line when his opponent’s game fell apart.” It is the story told to you by the score sheet. And it is what I read in Kozoom chat, in different versions. “Peter’s gone. He’s lost it.”

It’s complete bullshit.

This is what ACTUALLY happened: Ceulemans had (extremely) good starting positions in the first half of the match, and it gave him his 22-5 lead. Forthomme had little or nothing to work with. He made two great points in the third inning, both went unrewarded. When he was down 22-5, he had made just a single unforced error. Peter on the other hand, had made FIVE. Yes, he had hit good shots, produced runs of 4,4,5 and 8, but he had also missed five easy ones in the first nine innings. Strange as this may sound: his lead was 22-5, but it could or should have been 28 or 30 to 5. In the second half of the match, the run of the ball was gone for Ceulemans. Just one more good starting position from inning 10 to inning 20, seven or eight brutally difficult ones. Did his game “fall apart”? Not at all. He kept his composure and his concentration, played a few great shots that heartbreakingly missed by a hair, and did his utmost to defend. You’d honestly have to say that his 22 in 9 (first half) was worse than his 9 in 11 (second half).

What about Forthomme? He made one unforced error before the interval, five in the second half of the match. Like Peter, he made his mistakes in the part of the match where he was the most productive. His run of 12 was great, and so was his 8 in the 19th inning. But there was one massive fluke to help him, and a few thin hits that left him with an unintended good position. He took full advantage (35 in 12) and made everything that was there to be made. The pressure must have been high, but I think for Roland that will work in his favor, more often than not. He loves an audience, and he loves the big occasion.

I watched this semi-final match without much of a preference, both these Belgians played a superb tournament. They are teammates too (in Holland), have been for years. Watch the video on Kozoom, and you’ll notice that Roland’s gesture after the winning point is more apologetic than triumphant. The embrace that follows is genuine: these guys like each other.

Why spend so many words on this one match? Because it tells you what you need to know about the scoreboard. You’ll look, in search of information about the quality of play. And you’ll be lied to. Watch the table instead, that is where the truth is spoken.