Sixteen red devils with a cue


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on August 10, 2014

Bert van ManenThe traditional season opener in Belgium is the Superprestige tournament in early September. This year’s edition will no doubt start with a minute of silence, as one of the main sponsors and great friends of the event, Ferre van Loco, passed away last week. The billiard community in the Low Countries will remember his warmth, his love of food and wine, of billiards, of life. He will be missed.

The Superprestige is not unlike the Dutch “Masters” in its format: 4 flights of 4 round robin, from the last 8 on knock-out in QF, SF and F. Those of you with a Kozoom premium pass can look forward to an interesting week (1-6 September). Here’s the field:
Flight A: Eddy Merckx, Davy van Havere, Francis Forton, Ronny Daniels
Flight B: Roland Forthomme, Jef Philipoom, Kenny Miatton, Frank de Groof
Flight C: Eddy Leppens, Peter de Backer, Kurt Ceulemans, Thomas Broux
Flight D: Frédéric Caudron, Peter Ceulemans, Martin Spoormans, Steven van Acker

The usual suspects are all there of course, but Belgium has so many good second and third echelon contenders that several 1+ players did not make it. You may have never heard of Salvo, Blauwblomme, van Camp, Mottet, (Marco) Janssen, Weeremans, de Jaeger, Brants, Roofthooft, Stitchinsky, de Laet, (Bart) Ceulemans, Kesteloot, Ravestijn, Claessen, Meylemans, Celen, Persijn, Claus, or van Neyen, but they are all very proficient and capable of a 40 in 20 on their best day. So well done to the guys who now occupy those hard-fought spots 13-16: Daniels, de Groof, van Acker and Broux. The first three are experienced hands, the last one (Thomas Broux) is twenty-something, a pupil of one of Belgium’s best teachers (Paul Stroobants) and a promise.

A ton of credit needs to go to the main organizer and driving force behind this event: Eddy Leppens. Ever since the small city of Lommel has hosted the Superprestige (2008) Leppens has put in the hours and the effort to make it all possible. How he can do that and still play himself into the QF or SF every year is beyond me. Eddy even won the Superprestige once, in 2004. Here’s the honor roll, going back to 1985:

8 wins: Raymond Ceulemans (1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001)
7 wins: Frédéric Caudron (1992, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2013)
5 wins: Eddy Merckx (1999, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2012)
3 wins: Roland Forthomme (2005, 2009, 2010)
2 wins: Ludo Dielis (1991, 1993)
2 wins: Paul Stroobants (1987, 1990)
1 win: Jef Philipoom (2000)
1 win: Eddy Leppens (2004)

Some billiard followers call Leppens “the best player who never wins anything”. I don’t like the tone of that, it sounds disrespectful. But it has a degree of truth, obviously: no World Cup victories, European or World titles on his resume yet. Is he good enough to win a World Cup tournament? Absolutely. He was even close to the UMB world title in Sluiskil 2010, when he lost the final to Sanchez in a 5-set match that really could have gone either way. On the one hand, he does have trouble getting over the winning line sometimes. But on the other hand, his curse seems to be that when he plays exceptionally well, the other guy plays even better! His friend FC has done it to him so many times I’ve lost count. Leppens plays 2 average, FC plays 2.5. Leppens plays 3 average, FC plays 4. Let me make a prediction here and now: if Eddy L. becomes the first guy in history to end a 3-cushion match in the first inning, it will be against Frédéric. Who then equalizes and wins the shootout. I’m sorry Eddy, it is written in the stars.

With no less than 22 matches over 3.000 average to his name, he is 7th on that all-time list, and his personal bests are equally impressive. A 50 in 10, a 40 in 8 and a high run of 25, a tournament average of 2.057 (which got him 10th , can you believe it, TENTH place in the Verhoeven 2013 in NY), only a handful of legends can beat that. Leppens is one of the great players, period. I know, he throws a tantrum – and his chalk – once in a while, which of course he shouldn’t. But if every top player gave as much back to the sport as he does, billiards would be in better health than it is now.

The Superprestige in Lommel is a cozy event, usually played in a very relaxed atmosphere. Players know each other well, a joke here and there is permitted and a little audience participation not frowned upon. Watch it all on Kozoom, the red devils will not disappoint you.