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Ortmann’s U.S. Open Upset a Turning Point for 14.1
1989 U.S. Open 14.1 Championship • Dec. 1, 1989 • Chicago, Ill.
At the time, Oliver Ortmann’s victory over Steve Mizerak at the 1989 U.S. Open 14.1 Championship was considered one of the bigger upsets in straight-pool history. Despite owning half a dozen European titles, the 22-year-old German entered the event as an unheralded sponsor’s invite.
He left as the champion — and a harbinger for Europe’s (more specifically, Germany’s) current domination of straight pool. Since Ortmann outlasted Mizerak in the dramatic, if not beautiful, final nearly two decades ago, the Germans have produced top-pedigree champions like Ortmann, Thorsten Hohmann, Ralf Souquet and Thomas Engert. Niels Feijen of the Netherlands has also emerged as a world-class competitor, while Americans continue to regroup in hopes of taking back a game that was once theirs.
(Click above to view the last rack of the match)
Video provided by Accu-Stats Video Productions
But back to the 1989 U.S. Open. In Chicago’s Congress Theater, nobody favored Ortmann to top Mizerak, who already had a quartet of Open titles. After all, the brash shooter from Gelsenkirchen, West Germany, missed too many shots. He was too sloppy in and around the stack. The Miz would most definitely reprimand Ortmann for his unorthodox take on the traditional discipline of 14.1.
Mizerak, though, offered a little foreshadowing of his own — well before he took a spot in the hot-seat.
“Normally, I play a lot of straight pool before a big tournament like this,” he said during the opening draw. “But I’ve been so busy, I’m in no shape to win this tournament.”
Mizerak knocked the rust off early on, advancing through the top half of a bracket that was loaded with favorites like Mike Sigel, Nick Varner and Allen Hopkins. Ortmann, meanwhile, made the most of his half of the bracket, which was decidedly less star-studded. His first big test was against Dallas West, who had topped Jim Rempe. Ortmann scored a seat in the winners-side final with a relatively simple 150-60 win.
The first match between these two went as expected. Mizerak overcame an opening run of 58 from Ortmann to win, 150-55. Sent to the left, Ortmann topped Varner, who played brilliantly throughout the tournament, 150-135.
From the start, the two combatants couldn’t get in gear. Runs stalled and safeties were exchanged. After 90 minutes and 20 innings, the tension began to build. Mizerak looked to be ready to polish off a rack when he missed.
“The first time I thought I could win was when the score was 166-160 and Mizerak missed,” Ortmann said. “I saw that when we were even late in the match, he seemed a bit nervous. So I tried to stay with him.”
Showing a bit of the brilliance that carried him to the final, Ortmann cleaned up that rack and two more for a 193-166 lead. Just seven balls from victory, the German fumbled the break shot.
Mizerak cleared that rack, won a safety battle, then cleared another rack to close the score to 197-186. Lining up an easy break shot just 14 balls from victory, Mizerak badly missed. Ortmann pocketed three balls for the win, collapsing on the table with his face in his hands.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said moments after the title clinching 1 ball fell. “Nobody at home will ever believe me. They will ask me where I bought the trophy.”
After announcing his arrival with a cue, Ortmann spoke of the impending invasion from the other side of the Atlantic.
“There are so many good players in Europe,” he said. “But we are all young, between 20 and 25 years old. We still have much to learn, but in five years or so we will be even with the Americans.”
Since 1978, Billiards Digest magazine has been the pool world’s best source for news, tournament coverage, player profiles, bold editorials, and advice on how to play pool. Our instructors include superstars Nick Varner and Jeanette Lee. Every issue features the pool accessories and equipment you love — pool cues, pool tables, instruction aids and more. Columnists Mike Shamos and R.A. Dyer examine legends like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, and dig deep into the histories of pool games like 8-ball, 9-ball and straight pool.
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