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Second to None

On the road to redemption, BD Player of the Year Mika Immonen exorcized old ghosts.

Story by Mike Geffner

Immonen had plenty of reason to scream after a nearly flawless performance at the Mosconi Cup. (Photo by Lawrence Lustig-Matchroom Sport)

You get completely shut out in the final of the U.S. Open and that singular feeling of embarrassment stays with you like a lingering illness.

You dog it in the Mosconi Cup, blow it for a whole continent, for all of Europe, and that feeling of utter nausea in the pit of your stomach never really goes away. Not to mention dealing with the ugly rumors that surfaced afterwards. The total impact of which led to the worst depression of your life.

And the kicker to all of it: You win a World Championship, then, so inexplicably, go years and years not only without snapping off another major title but strangely falling dead whenever you got even close, to the point where you couldn't shake the feeling that something, somewhere inside you, was definitely missing. But what? What could it possibly be? How could you have so much talent and not accomplish something huge for so long? It drove you nuts sometimes trying to figure it out.

Mika Immonen, "The Iceman," who everybody thinks doesn't feel a thing, who's supposed to be impervious to such visceral issues, who walks around with that blank face and those cold green eyes and that flat demeanor, indeed carried around all that emotional baggage like a second cue case strapped over his shoulder.

"I got rid of my demons last year, got all the monkeys off my back," he was saying of his incredible - and incredibly overdue - 2008 season over a lunch of baby clams and pasta at a New York City restaurant. "It was a year of overcoming a lot of things for me."

For the first time since the summer of 2001, when he defeated Ralf Souquet in the final of the World Championship in Cardiff, Wales, Immonen is finally back on top of the pool world - the 2008 Billiards Digest Player of the Year.

"I actually said to myself at the beginning of '08, 'I'm tired of having all these mediocre years.' I mean, I won tournaments over the years, but not the significant ones. I wanted to establish myself again and get back to where I knew I belonged.

"I just think," he added after a slight pause, "that I had to get my head straight."

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