First things first and each and every year the IPA World Professional Pool Championships are getting better and better. Last year the introduction of a betting partner in Coral took entries though the roof and this year we introduced a new Simonis cloth – grey instead of green (no longer the insulting “small snooker label thank you very much), harder wreaking, easier to clean, and more importantly no nap and no roll offs so very very popular with the players.
The highest ever list of entries entry started off on Tuesday with five titles up for grabs (Open, Ladies, Seniors, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles), but by late Saturday afternoon the numbers had been pared down to just the four in the main event with 2016 runner-up Craig Marsh up against Ian Ali in the first semi final and Yannick Beaufils versus Simon Fitzsimmons in the other. Craig went through by a score line of 3-1 before a longer battle eventually saw Simon also win by three sets to one to go in to his first ever IPA World Final on Saturday evening.
The biggest ever Ladies entry by some margin had whittled down to Collette Hendriksen versus Leanne Evans by 6.00pm on the Saturday when we knew we would see a new champion to replace two time winner Deb Burchell. With the one minute stop clock in operation and the added pressure of the livestream table plus the thousands watching around the World they put on a show well worthy of a Champion before Collette came out on top 4-1 4-1 to be crowned and the delight in her face was there for all to see with a smile from ear to ear. Still smiling she told us tongue in cheek “I’m glad I won because it was my round next and I had no money left, but seriously, it was a relief because I was only one shot away from being knocked out in the last 16.” Ever modest Collette was a worthy Champion who will no doubt travel over from Northern Ireland again next year and put up a bold attempt at defending her title.
With just about enough time to catch their breath (and get a drink) the crowd were soon back in their seats for the Open Final for a Wales v England battle with Marsh v Fitzsimons and a record crowd tuning in for the free livestream. Any pre match thoughts that the nerves would tell on the less experienced Englishman were soon banished to the bin as Simon moved 3-0 up before taking the first set 4-1 against the early odds. Set two kicked off with the pair sharing the first six frames and making the second set a one frame decider. With Simon breaking dry (no balls potted), Craig took the set 4-3 levelling up the match and adding to an already tense atmosphere.
Set Three went to Craig again (4-2) leaving Simon under some pretty serious pressure and we all wondered how he would handle the torqued up pressure and with a half hour assigned break who knew whether he would return tormented, or refreshed – the wonders of sport. Taking the first frame back the nerves must have settled instantly but at this level there is nowhere to hide and Craig reasserted himself to draw away and win the fourth set by 4-1 and it looked all over bar the shouting. Sadly for Simon the runaway train did prove as unstoppable as it seemed as Craig, who uses Shooters Sports Bar in Neath as his base, took out what turned in to the final set 4-1 (again) to take his first World crown, and as one of the most liked players on the tour few if any in the room begrudged him the hard earned victory.
With a good sleep behind us all we arose Sunday for the final of six days of intense competition and the Seniors Final was on first at 2.00pm when we saw Mark White v Gareth Hibbott in what promised to be a classic for those of us also of a certain age. Gareth was looking to be the first player in IPA history to double up having won the IPA World Championship last year but anyone who thought mark would knuckle under pressure was in for a surprise. Racing in to a 4-1 lead in a race to seven he was caught near the end to make it 6-6 and basically a one frame decider. Both players were overrunning a little thanks to the obvious adrenaline, but it was Gareth who pulled out some stunning shots worthy of a champion to crawl over the line 7-6 and add another trophy to his overflowing cabinet.
Two more matches to go and the doubles saw Jez Graham and Darren McVicar take on Clint I’Anson and Jordan Church in a see saw battle that saw the first named pairing sprint in to a 3-0 lead and look for all the World the most likely and obvious winners before a miss in frame four let in their opponents. From then on it was one way traffic as the favourites reeled off frame after frame (seven in a row to be precise) to turn things around and win 7-3 to the horror of their opponents who were gracious in defeat.
Last up on Sunday evening we had the newly added mixed doubles which saw English pair Clint I’Anson (again) and multiple World Champion Deb Burchell take on their Welsh rivals in Johnny Bushnell and Kirsty Davies. A race to five puts the pressure on from the very start for both teams with so little room for error. No quarter was given from any of the quartet who all held their own under the TV lights but in the end we saw another final frame shoot out with the nerves finally beginning to show a little. Clint went in off his break which was just the start his opponents wanted but in their first IPA tour the Welsh pairing broke down and it was Clint and Deb who went on to win 7-3 and take the first ever World Mixed Doubles trophy.
In conclusion, the general feeling was that this had been the best World Championships ever. New tables, new Simonis cloth, new Champions, and more media coverage with the BBC taking an interest as well as an Internet radio station and livestreaming sites – the future of pool looks to be in very good hands with the IPA and can finally get the recognition such a popular sport deserves.
Sean Trivass is a freelance journalist and was an unpaid guest of the IPA all week and would like to thank them for all their assistance.