That one opponent they can never beat


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on November 27, 2015

f48c420169d98c23bb6e91a4e5c3c2d14042c610.jpgWould you consider the world’s best 3-cushion players to be superstars? I would. They don’t make millions, I realize that. But sometimes Lionel Messi does something only Lionel Messi could have thought of, and execute it that instant.

Just like Caudron.

Millions of women can sing. But only Adele sounds like Adele. And only Horn plays like Horn, Merckx like Merckx, Tasdemir like Tasdemir. They make fewer mistakes than we do, but more importantly, they add their personal style, they enrich the game with their uniqueness. Play us a video of two high runs, one by Zanetti and one by Jaspers, without showing us the players. Just the balls. My guess is, we’ll identify the player before he’s made five points.

After three days of watching the Lausanne Billard Masters live (what a privilege!), I don’t think any less of our sport’s elite. On the contrary, I’ve sat and admired. But this was a thought that entered my mind quite a few times: “They are still human”.

I saw a world class player study his ABC-position from all angles. He had the balls cleaned first. Then came the pre-strokes, six or seven of them. Finally, he made contact. A touch that moved the cue ball 2 millimeters. You are not going to believe this: four innings later, he did it again.

Another star struggled with his long-short-long position. The kiss looked very hard to avoid. There were two or three other options, but he didn’t like those: too difficult. He went back to the “easy” line, got down and came back up again. I could read his lips. “Kiss””, he whispered to himself. Time ran out. He played the shot, and walked to his chair even before the second ball had kissed his cue ball off its line.

I saw a former world champion play a relatively straightforward bank shot, and violently miscue. The horrid sound that makes! It’s worse than nails on a blackboard. The shot even made, (you can’t make this stuff up) off five rails instead of the intended three. He apologized, got back to work and ran 8.

A player known for his sound decision-making walked to the bathroom at the halfway point of his match. He had just ran 9, averaged well over 2.000 but his mind was filled only with that 10th point. He passed my chair, caught my eye and said: “Bert, I am such an idiot”.

None of these players are immune to 3-cushion viruses or billiard bacteria. They get sick sometimes. That one opponent they can never beat, is THE GAME ┬áitself. They are armed to the teeth with all their knowledge, their mighty stroke and problem-solving ability. And yet, the Game can leave them helpless. When it gangs up with the opponent and cruel run of the ball, they’ll be brought to their knees. Even if they are superstars.

Zanetti, two-time winner in Lausanne, averaged quite a bit better than last year. In 2014, he won the tournament with 1.4, this time he did 1.7 and ended fourth in his flight. A great match against Jaspers came too late.

Bury was not that far from a place in the semifinals. He beat Blomdahl (again), and needed a win against Sung Won Choi in the last group match. It wasn’t to be, the Korean dominated in that match.

Merckx was well on his way, when he had a 32-22 lead over TB in the last group match. Three innings later, he had lost 32-40, without having done anything wrong. He was dreadfully unlucky. It has to be said though, that his Lausanne general average of 1.4 was unimpressive. Merckx looks a bit overly defensive to me, these days.

Tasdemir, the Fred Astaire of 3-cushion, played well and smiled a lot, mostly because he loves his life. He had one loss (against DJ) and needed a win against Horn to proceed. It was 35-31 to Tayfun, but Martin ran 9 and out. That was tough. I still see him as one of the (half-dozen) favorites in Bordeaux.

Blomdahl was never really convincing. Brilliant at times, but inconsistent by his own high standards. He made a spectacular comeback against Merckx (a few flukes helped), but in the semifinal, Horn was the better player.

Sung Won Choi did what he is best at: make the important points. He lost to TB, but beat Merckx and Bury. He did rather well to score 29 in 15 against DJ, after a nightmare of a start. Can’t see him retaining his world title though.

Horn was runner-up again, and like last year, had to work hard for it. He admitted he was at a slight disadvantage on new and slippery tables, with only league play and no World Cups in his recent past. Lost to DJ, both in the group stage and in the final, but looked strong against Zanetti, Tasdemir and Blomdahl. Few players can match Horn’s precision and composure.

What about Jaspers? Even his loss against Zanetti can take nothing away from his tournament win. He was, without a doubt, the best player in Lausanne. As usual, he had the highest average. But more importantly: he had the thickest skin, the hardest skull, and the deepest desire to win. Not to mention his physical discipline: has there ever been a player in this game who hits the ball so straight and so commanding?

Blomdahl shot

Here is one of those decisive and fortunate points TB made against Merckx. Blomdahl later explained that this is indeed a legitimate double chance, but he honestly added that he had not played it this way. “I thought I had it off three rails”. To make the point like this, you need perfect speed and “dying” english. One last gush of spin on the fourth rail, nothing on the fifth.