Snooker: Two special women, one very long match

Ng On Yee savouring the fruits of her success at Safra Toa Payoh's Lagoon Billiard Room. She began her day at 10am on Sunday when she took on defending champion and world No. 1 Reanne Evans in the semi-finals, and it ended around 1.30am yesterday whe
Ng On Yee savouring the fruits of her success at Safra Toa Payoh's Lagoon Billiard Room. She began her day at 10am on Sunday when she took on defending champion and world No. 1 Reanne Evans in the semi-finals, and it ended around 1.30am yesterday when the final was over. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Vidya Pillai in action. She exceeded all expectations by reaching the final.
Vidya Pillai in action. She exceeded all expectations by reaching the final.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

HK's Ng takes 91/2 hours to subdue Pillai 6-5, thanks to Indian opponent's late mis-step

For a staggering 91/2 hours at Safra Toa Payoh, the two women pitted their skills and will against each other for the £5,000 (S$8,660) winner's purse, as well as the right to be called the world snooker champion.

What started at 4pm on Sunday danced past the evening and into the wee hours of yesterday, before Hong Kong's world No. 2 Ng On Yee potted the pink ball at 1.30am that sealed her gruelling 6-5 win over India's Vidya Pillai in the best-of-11 final of the Eden World Women's Snooker Championship.

And after 8hr 4min (actual play time) of the stiffest examination of their technique, strategy and belief, the two finalists shared a weary hug - perhaps knowing that they have created history, in playing out what is believed to be the longest 11-frame match in snooker.

The previous record is believed to be 7hr 14min, set when Paul Tanner beat Robby Foldvari 6-5 at the 1992 UK Championship.

Despite being the victor, a spent Ng could hardly speak about her epic win.

STAYING STRONG

It is the Hong Kong spirit; never give up and fight till the end. I kept reminding myself that I can still win it.

NG ON YEE, Hong Kong's world No. 2 and now the new world champion, on outlasting Vidya Pillai in the longest-ever snooker match.

Eventually, the 26-year-old said: "It is the Hong Kong spirit; never give up and fight till the end. I kept reminding myself that I can still win it."

Some of the 50-odd fans did not last the distance at the Laguna Billiard Room; only a handful were left to applaud Ng's early-morning win.

They might have even thought they were in for a short, one-sided final when the bespectacled Ng - dressed in a classy black-on-white get-up with a pink bow tie - swept into a 2-0 lead over Pillai in just 70 minutes.

What they did not factor in, though, was the tenacity of veteran Pillai, an eight-time Indian national champion who is still playing on despite being a full-time mother.

NO REGRETS

I had absolutely nothing to lose from the start. To qualify from the tough group itself was already not easy.

VIDYA PILLAI, self-funded player and full-time mother, on her feat in progressing from a tough group and going all the way to the final.

Dressed fully in black with the Indian national flag pinned to her chest, the self-funded player - who can afford only a maximum 14 hours of practice per week, compared to Ng's minimum of 25 hours - calmly responded by taking the next four frames in 2hr 40min.

"I had absolutely nothing to lose from the start," said the 39-year-old, who managed to reach the final via a tough opening group which featured the likes of 2008 British Open champion Maria Catalano, South Korean Park Jeong Min and Ireland's Paula Judge.

"To qualify from the tough group itself was already not easy."

Down 2-4, however, Ng mounted a fightback of her own, turning the see-saw final around by winning the next three frames in 21/2 hours.

With fatigue slowly seeping in as the final stretched into its seventh hour, both finalists sipped coffee and energy drinks and munched on tidbits whenever the other played.

With Ng needing one more frame to win at 5-4, however, Pillai used all of her 18-year experience to snatch the 10th frame, potting the black ball with the scores tied at 49-all to force a decider for the first time in this tournament since 1989.

In a titanic 69-minute final frame, Ng had led 48-22 before Pillai clawed back to lead 56-54 with the pink and black balls left.

Disaster then struck the Indian as she potted the black first, giving Ng a 60-56 lead, before Ng sealed her second world title with a 66-56 frame.

"I played nearly 16 hours today," said Ng, who had defeated world No. 1 Reanne Evans 5-4 in the semi-finals on Sunday morning.

"But I go by this saying that if you believe it, you can achieve it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2017, with the headline 'Two special women, one very long match'. Print Edition | Subscribe