ST Athlete of the Year: World No. 1 not enough for pool player Aloysius Yapp

From now till April 22, ST will honour outstanding Singaporeans who are nominees for the 2021 ST Athlete of the Year award, backed by 100 Plus. They defied the odds, injuries and the pandemic to chase their sporting dreams, setting new standards of excellence for others to follow.

Aloysius Yapp said being called the world's No. 1 felt weird, as he thought he was not playing how a top-ranked player should play. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Five months ago, almost 17 years after he first picked up a cue, Aloysius Yapp scaled to the top of his sport. He became the world's No. 1 pool player.

But he could not shake off a hollowness that was an unexpected by-product of his achievement.

"I felt - and still feel - like I needed a major title," Yapp told The Straits Times in a recent interview.

A top World Pool-Billiard Association ranking, he explained, can be attained if you finish "deep in many events" without actually picking up a significant title. Which was what happened in his case.

While he claimed major scalps at the World 10-Ball Championship and US Open 9-Ball Championship - beating the world's top three players across the two prestigious tournaments - he ultimately fell short in both.

He finished third in the former and lost in the final at the latter, having also reached the final rounds or winning several smaller ranking tournaments prior.

Still, his exploits were unprecedented for a Singaporean athlete, and in addition to accumulating points that pushed him to the top of the rankings, he was also among four local athletes feted with an open-top bus parade here in December. These accomplishments are also why he has been nominated for this year's ST Athlete of the Year award, which is backed by 100Plus.

Yet Yapp's own expectations kept gnawing away at him.

He described being called world No. 1 "definitely weird", and explained: "That's mainly because I felt I was not playing like how a world No. 1 should play.

"I feel I have so much further to go and so much more to learn... I still feel like there's a lot of work to be done."

He is determined to rid himself of this feeling, and if he has his way, will do so before he turns 26 in May.

The soft-spoken and amiable Yapp, now world No. 2, left Singapore in February, a few days after Chinese New Year, for the United States. He is there for two months competing and training.

The sojourn will culminate in his two major targets - the World 10-ball Championship from March 28-April 1 in Las Vegas, followed a week later by the World 9-ball Pool Championship across the Atlantic in Milton Keynes, England.

His coach, mentor and doubles partner Toh Lian Han, who first met him when he was 16, said he believed it was a matter of when, and not if, Yapp wins a world title.

Yapp is an outlier in the sport, added Toh, because of how early he picked up the sport, and the patience he had which belied his young age.

"And he has gotten even more patient since then," said Toh, 50.

"On top of this, he is the most committed player I've come across in cuesport."

SPH Brightcove Video
Aloysius Yapp regrets losing part of his childhood by dropping out of school when he was 14. But his focus was on playing pool and last year, he became the world no. 1. Now, the 25-year-old says with a steely determination that he is just beginning.

Yapp's dedication extended to him making the bold decision to drop out of school when he was 14, to chase his sporting dreams.

He was vindicated by a World Junior Pool championship title in Shanghai four years later in 2014, a victory which also reinforced his ambition to become a professional.

Having spent the next eight years trying to make a similar impact at the senior level of world pool, his recent rise has come with some perks.

His Instagram account received a blue tick, which is reserved for a "public figure, celebrity or brand".

He was also one of 16 players invited to compete in last month's US$100,000 ($135,485) Premier League Pool event in Milton Keynes where he placed 11th.

And late last year, several new sponsors also threw their weight behind him with offers of support in kind and cash.

Yapp said he was "grateful and happy" his recent exploits have eased the worries his mother, Angie Tay, previously had about him making a living.

"Being a professional athlete in Singapore is not easy, so I'm happy I'm at least able to look after myself," he said.

Until he achieves that coveted major title, however, Yapp will remain unsatisfied.

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