Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on July 30, 2014
The final two days of the 2014 Verhoeven Open were not so much about Salazar, Sidhom, Cataño and Ly The Vinh, who predictably ended 8,7,6 and 5. They did well though, to make it that far and to help create an average for the final 8-player round robin of 1,698, which is only slightly lower than was produced in the best years of the Crystal Kelly in Monte Carlo. But the focus was on the top 4: Caudron, Blomdahl, Merckx and Jaspers.
Dick’s frustration is, that he hasn’t won anything major since the WC in Lima 2011. I am sure that he would have considered a win in NY equal to a World Cup, a breakthrough and a load off his shoulders. Wasn’t to be, he won three matches and lost four. A poor performance? Good heavens no. Jaspers made 36 in 25 against Sidhom (his worst match), 33 in 17 against Cataño, 35 in 15 against Blomdahl and 34 in 11 against Caudron. His general average: 2.031. Some players would sell a kidney to be able to do that. He’s over 2.000 in the leagues as well, he’ll win again.
Caudron had a strange weekend. He started the final with an unexpected second loss to Ly The Vinh, then hit back with some phenomenal play: 40 in 12, 40 in 11, 40 in 12, high run of the tournament (17). The match against TB may well have been the crucial one: he lost it 31 – 40 in 18 and the tournament win was out of reach. A third loss, to Merckx, may have been because his heart was no longer in it. With ups and downs, his final eight general average was 2.081. He is the best in the world, obviously. But you can’t be the best every week, every tournament, not even if you are FC.
Merckx played a wonderful week in NY in 2013: runner-up. He did it again in 2014: second place, with a 1.934 general average. The very down to earth Belgian showed a ton of common sense in his comment, after the fact. “The way our flight ended, with a three-way tie between me, TB and Coklu, and the way my group match with Torbjörn ended (kiss – miss – kiss – miss, then 30-29), I must be happy with this. I could so easily have gone out on Friday. And then, to win the tournament, I would have needed two wins in a row, three in total, against Blomdahl. That’s a lot to ask.” Maybe a little explanation is in order here: had Merckx won the final round robin game against Blomdahl, they would have ended on the same win/loss record, and a play-off match to 40 points would have been necessary.
Which brings us to the mighty Swede, who had a perfect record in the final: seven wins. His schedule was such, that he played the four “lesser” finalists on Saturday, to leave him with DJ, FC and EM on the closing Sunday. Four straight wins, in 26, 14, 18 and 16 innings were the dream start to his final, and seeing two of his competitors with a loss already, felt good too. Could he win the tournament with two out of three on the final day? Or would he need to beat all three top guys? The first win, against DJ, was high quality: 40 – 35 in 15. But that was all technical: playing billiards, and making points. It was the second win, against FC, where he really needed to dig deep. Frédéric had a good lead at halftime, some 10 points, and Torbjörn was in trouble. He did the classic “throw water in your face in the bathroom”, and regrouped. Forget about the many losses to the Belgian in the past years, forget about the current score. He picked himself up, came back a different player, found his second wind and started to play with guts. I’ve seen matches with higher runs, more spectacular points, closer finishes. But this was one to remember, if you love the mental side of the game. It is extremely difficult to beat Caudron in a battle of wills, but this time, TB came out on top.
And then of course, a new problem presented itself. You beat tough-as-nails Jaspers, then you beat the world nr. 1. Isn’t that enough for a day? No. Now they want you to play Eddy pit-bull Merckx. TB gave us a little look into his thought process, I don’t think he will mind if I quote him here. “Merckx had one loss, he was 5 and 1, I was 6 and 0. If I lost that match, there was another chance, again to 40. Sure, that would have been exhausting for me, but for him too. He basically had one chance, I had two. I decided to not be careful or conservative in any way, but to play full attack. Three or four good runs can be enough to decide a match to 40. If I made those, I would win. If he made them, I’d have another shot.”
Blomdahl did not need the rematch. He won the “final” 40 – 29 in 17 innings, making it a 5th New York victory (1992, 1994, 2004, 2005, 2014). No matches over 3.000 average for him (FC had three!), but head and shoulders the highest general average of the field: 2.188, which shows how consistent his play was. The world’s three best billiard players in their forties tried hard, but the billiard player in his fifties won. There is hope still, for us old geezers.