Cue sports: Taiwanese Ko, Filipina Centeno crowned Asian 9-Ball Open champions

The Philippines' Chezka Centeno (left) and Mr Ko Pin Yi from Taiwan winning the inaugural APF Women’s and Men’s Asian 9 Ball Open 2022 respectively in Singapore, on Aug 28, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Ko Pin-yi, from Taiwan, beat Filipino James Aranas 13-11 at Singapore's HarbourFront Centre on Aug 28, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Wielding a beautiful blend of power, positional play and patience, 2015 world champion Ko Pin-yi is now the inaugural Asian 9-Ball Open men's champion.

On Sunday (Aug 28), about 200 spectators were treated to world-class pool action at the Aspire Recreation Centre at HarbourFront Centre as the Taiwanese world No. 61 beat Filipino James Aranas 13-11 to pick up the winner's cheque of $10,000. Runner-up Aranas took home $5,000.

Ko's delight was evident as he shouted "Yes!" after potting the final 9-ball.

The 33-year-old told The Straits Times: "Of course, there is pressure during the final for me to find a way back. But I don't feel the pressure from the former world champion tag. I treat every event as a stage to perform and enjoy.

"Every title means something to me and I'm very happy to be the first to win this tournament. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have not played in Asia for three years, so this is something special.

"I think the Asian Pool Federation can be very proud of themselves for organising such a well-run competition, with start times no earlier than 11am so that players are well-rested to perform. I'm also grateful Matchroom Pool made this a first ranking event in Asia so that Asian players can gain ranking points playing in Asia."

In the final, world No. 101 Aranas won the lag to break first but did not have a clear shot at the 2-ball and after trading safety shots, Ko found an opening to clear the table.

With the alternate-break, first-to-13 format, Aranas did not capitulate but went on to run out on his next four breaks to keep the pressure on his more illustrious opponent, who missed a jump shot on the eighth rack as Aranas made it 4-4.

Both players showed tremendous composure, and it seemed Ko blinked first when he left the 4-ball hanging at the pocket in the 14th rack, but Aranas shockingly missed the easy shot and the opportunity to take a two-frame lead.

They continued to win on their break until the 21st rack when, with the score at 10-10, Aranas played a poor 1-8 combination and scratched on his next shot to hand the initiative to Ko, who went error-free to seal the win.

Ko, whose brothers Ping-chung and Ping-han also played in the tournament, said: "Under this format, the break is the most important aspect as it determines whether you stay on the table with an open shot to play for position next.

"We were both playing very well and I was just waiting for an opportunity, which didn't look like it was going to come. Still, I was shocked when he missed the 4-ball, and then later made the mistake on the 1-8 combination."

Aranas rued that fatal fault, as the 30-year-old said: "It was a great match, but the 1-8 cost me the match. I hit it too hard and left myself hooked. But the way I played gives me confidence I can achieve greater things in my pool career."

In the women's competition, Philippines former pool prodigy Chezka Centeno beat 71st-ranked South Korean Seo Seoa 11-7 to become the first female champion of the event and pocket $5,000.

Despite suffering an opening-round 7-6 loss to Singapore's Jessica Tan, who lost to Seoa in the round of 16, the 23-year-old fought through the losers' bracket to reach the knockout rounds.

Centeno, the sixth of seven children born in Zamboanga City, picked up billiards at age five, started playing tournaments from eight and finished third at the Philippine National Games when she was 11.

His father Fausto Albert Centeno, who owns a local billiards saloon, reportedly said: "Since she was still short then, she would use a beer case as a step-ladder to reach the table. In fact, she learnt billiards before she learnt how to write!"

At the 2015 SEA Games, she was just 15 when she won the 9-ball singles title before retaining it at the 2017 edition. She took silver on home soil in 2019, but made up for it with golds in the 10-ball singles and 9-ball doubles events. Earlier this year, she won another 10-ball singles silver at the Hanoi Games.

On Sunday, after coming back from 4-0 down to overcome Seo, Centeno said: "I feel so lucky, excited and proud to win my first international title since the pandemic. There is no secret, just three or four hours of practise every day and focus.

"I prefer 10-ball to 9-ball because it is more challenging and I play 10-ball more often. This is a big confidence boost for my ambitions to become 10-ball world champion one day."

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