PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — IN his two previous trips in the country, Mika Immonen has broken the hearts of Filipinos by twice beating pool icon Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes in two separate international meets.
He vows to relive that same experience again.
Guaranteeing no less than a championship, the soft-spoken but fiery 34-year- old player from Helsinki, Finland sent a message across that it will be a party-less campaign for Reyes and the rest of the Filipinos in the 2006 World Pool Championship, which comes off the wraps at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) today.
“I have been a two-time winner in Manila. I intend to do that again,” said the 2001 World Pool champion, unmindful of the billing bestowed upon Reyes and compatriots Francisco `Django’ Bustamante and Alex Pagulayan as among the favorites to win the $400,000 event being played in the country for the first time ever.
Now based in New York, Immonen defeated Reyes in the final of the 2002 LG Flatron Billiard Challenge 2 held at the Casino Filipino and in the 1st Café Puro Philippine 9-Ball Open in 2003 at the Robinson’s Galleria.
Reyes, whose 1999 victory in the tournament that gathers the finest 9-ball players in the world spawned the popularity of billiards in the Philippines, admitted that it would really be a disaster should none of the 21 Filipino players competing here successfully win the title.
“Actually hindi lang pressure ito sa akin at sa iba pang mga Filipino, nakakahiya pa kung hindi tayo mananalo,” said the 52-year old billiard icon considered as the best cue artist ever to play the sport.
Reyes and Immonen are among the 96 out of the 128 total players set to see action in today’s opener. The Filipino is bracketed in Group 2 and will be up against American Tony Crosby while the Finish banners Group 11 and faces Marco Tschudi of Switzerland.
Winner of the Nov. 4-12 meet organized by Raya Sports, MatchRoom Sport and ESPN Star Sports receives a whooping $100,000.
At the helm of the field divided into 32 Groups of four players each is Chinese-Taipei phenom Wu Chia Ching, who is looking forward to retain the title he won a year ago as a chubby, 17-year old teener.
“I will be very proud to have my title defend in Manila. I’m very ready for it,” said Wu, looking very fit and slim during yesterday’s press presentation at the Sofitel Westin Plaza that was also attended by Bustamante, Pagulayan, International Pool Tour (IPT) World 8-Ball Championship runner up Rodney Morris, 2003 champion Thorsten Hohmann, Billiards and Snooker Congress of the Philippines (BSCP) chairman Yen Makabenta, Department of Tourism assistant secretary Cynthia Carrion and ESPN Star Sports’ Diana Chan.
Wu is on top of Group 1 and will play Germany’s Sven Pauritsch to formally begin his title defense.
Completing the Filipino roster in the tournament are Marlon Manalo, Dennis Orcullo, US-based Jose ‘Amang’ Parica, Ramil Gallego, Rodolfo Luat, Gandy Valle, Ronato Alcano, Roland Garcia, Santos Sambajon, Leonardo Andam, Lee Van Corteza, Jharome Pena, Antonio Lining, Rudy Morta, Roberto Gomez, Israel Rota, Jeff de Luna and Eduardo Villanueva.
Pagulayan is in Group 2, Bustamante shows the way in Group 10 together with crown prince of Brunei, Muhtadee Billah, Manalo heads Group 5 while Orcollo is in Group 16.
Prominent names competing include former champions Earl ‘The Pearl’ Strickland of the US, fellow Americans Johnny Archer and Corey Deuel, Germany’s Ralf Souquet, Thomas Engert and Oliver Ortmann, Tony Drago of Malta and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat. The initial round will have all players taking on each other once in their respective groups in a race-to-eight, alternate break format.
The top two in each group move on in the last 64 knock out stage and will be seeded accordingly on their performances in the group stages. The first two rounds of the knock out phase follow a race-to-ten, alternate break format.
The round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals are race-to-11 contests with the final being a race-to-17 affair.