A KUWAITI IN SHANGHAI!
By Ted Lerner, WPS Media Officer
19 May 2013
UPSTART OMAR AL SHAHEEN BARGES INTO THE SEMI FINALS AT THE CHINA OPEN, JOINS CORTEZA, WU AND FU FOR SUNDAY'S FINAL FOUR
(Shanghai)--Omar Al Shaheen just booked his place in pool history.
After defeating Taiwan’s Hsu Kai Lun, 11-8, in the quarterfinals of the China Open 9-ball in Shanghai on Saturday night, the 20 year old Kuwaiti became the first pool player in his country, and indeed in the entire Middle East region, to ever advance to the semi-finals of a major world ranking pool event.
It is an accomplishment that will surely have profound repercussions for not only Al Shaheen’s budding career, but also for the progress of the sport in the Middle East, which is one of the few growth areas worldwide—along with China-- for the American game of pool. Whether Al Shaheen can take the prestigious crown and the $40,000 winner’s purse on Sunday is something that is entirely up to the pool gods. But the way things have fallen in place for Al Shaheen this week in Shanghai, anything must surely be in the realm of possibility.
Al Shaheen will have all he can handle and more as he takes on the Philippine veteran Lee Van Corteza in the first semi-final. In the second semi-final, Taiwan veteran Fu Che Wei will go up against his former countryman and surprise entry, the two time former world champion Wu Jiajing(formerly Wu Chia Ching), who now plays out of China.
Al Shaheen has had an amazing run through the field this week in Shanghai and it was capped off with an all-time gritty performance throughout the day today. He first came back from a 10-7 deficit to beat Poland’s Radislaw Babica, 11-10. In his next match, he fended off Great Britain’s Karl Boyes down the stretch, and won another cliff hanger, 11-10.
After taking down Taiwan’s Hsu, Al Shaheen whooped it up with his fellow Kuwait teammate and various friends in the arena.
“I’ve very happy,” a beaming Al Shaheen said. “A lot of people back in Kuwait are waiting for something like this. All over the Middle East this is very big. They will be proud of this. I have worked very hard for this.”
The youngster’s rise to the upper echelons of pool is not totally out of the blue. When four Kuwaitis made it to the final 64 of the World 9-ball Championship in Qatar last June, it showed Kuwait is a growing force in professional pool. When Al Shaheen advanced all the way to the final 16 of the event, it showed that he is clearly the face of the new and hungry generation coming out of the Middle East.
Al Shaheen revealed that he goes to university during the day where he studies sports psychology. At night he trains on the pool table for 5-6 hours. He said he uses what he learns in the classroom on the pool table.
“I try to control my thinking out there when I play, and I take my time on each shot.”
If Al Shaheen wants to send the entire population of his small city state country into the streets to celebrate—something he says will happen if he manages to win the China Open—he’ll have to employ more than psychology against Corteza. The Filipino played marvellous pool on Saturday first taking down Austria’s capable Albin Ouschan, 11-8, then smothering Taiwan’s Ko Pin Yi, 11 -6. In the final match of the day, Corteza defeated another strong Taiwanese player, Zheng Yu Xuan, 11 -7.
Corteza is certainly one of the world’s top players but he said he had to take a rather unconventional approach for a Filipino player in preparing for the China Open. With the tournament and money game scene having all but dried up in the Philippines, Corteza has had to find other things to do. He has gotten himself into playing shape by swimming, jogging and practicing by himself at a local pool hall. The change of routine and the focus on fitness has clearly paid off for the Filipino.
“One of the keys today was that I didn’t get tired. I was very focused all day.”
If Wu manages to find himself in the winner’s circle on Sunday afternoon, --and it’s a distinct possibility--it will go down as one of the great stories in professional pool over the last few years. The 24 year old is often spoken of by pool fans around the world with reverence. At the age of 16 he won the World 9-ball and World 8-ball championship only months apart. He has one of the deadliest strokes and biggest hearts ever seen on the green pitch.
But over the last four years his personal life has been a roller coaster of drama and intrigue. For a while he was practically a man without a country. After suffering a three year competition ban for trying to move to Singapore, the Taiwan born Wu ended up moving to China. He was forced to return to Taiwan last year to serve 16 months in the Army or face never seeing his family in Taiwan for 20 years. Over that period, one of the sports great talents mopped floors and washed windows and never picked up a cue stick. In November last year he was diagnosed with a mild form of lukemia, which is being controlled with medicine.
Wu has only practiced for one month before the China Open, but incredibly he has played like the Wu of old this week in Shanghai. On Saturday he first defeated Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann 11-10. Then against Greece’s Nick Ekonomonopoulos, who had just taken down World 9-ball champion Darren Appleton, Wu delivered nine break and runs, all while Ekonomonopoulos played lights out and ran 8 racks. Wu won the match11-10. He then came right back out and whipped the Philippines Carlo Biado 11 -6 to book a spot in the semis.
The matchup with veteran Fu looks set to be epic, with a bit of cross straits intrigue thrown in to boot. The 37 year old Fu played fantastic on Saturday and was practically untouchable. He crushed 2011 China Open Champion Chris Melling 11-3. Then he outlasted defending champion Dennis Orcollo of the Philippines, 11-8. He finished up with an 11-10 squeaker over fellow Taiwanese Tsung Hua, 11 – 10 to take his place in the final four.
The first semi-final match up begins at 9:30am Shanghai time(GMT +8). The finals begin at 3:30pm. All matches are race to 11, alternate break.
The winner of the China Open will receive $40,000. The runner-up will take home $20,000.
*The 2013 China Open in Shanghai, China runs from May 12-19 and is sanctioned by the World Pool & Billiard Association(WPA). 64 men and 48 women will compete in separate 9-ball events. The China Open is a WPA ranking event. The main event will begin on May 16 and run through May 19.
The WPA will be providing full coverage of the 2013 China Open Men’s final via its website at www.wpapool.com, and through Facebook at www.facebook.com/WpaChinaOpen. The WPA will be providing live scoring, daily articles and analysis from WPA Press Officer Ted Lerner, and photographs. Fans can also follow the event through Twitter; @poolwpa.
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