With a renewed perspective, van den Berg kept things light on his way to the final.
Still seemingly flying under the radar, van den Berg continued his solid play against Archer. The Dutch star, just 29 but a veteran of international pro competition for nearly a decade, has confined himself to the EuroTour in the past two years. Marriage and a child have also helped the easy-going van den Berg put his pool game into perspective.
"I don't treat every game, every match like it's the end of the world," van den Berg explained. "I have a family now, so pool doesn't overwhelm me anymore. I just go out and play my best. That's helped me relax. Also, I haven't been practicing much, and I'm playing better than ever because of that."
Well enough, in fact, to win the 9-ball title at the European Championships in Austria in April.
Against Archer, van den Berg seemed to hit his stride. The Dutchman broke with authority, while Archer struggled to execute "legal" break shots. To eliminate the soft break, Matchroom events require three balls to either be pocketed or pass the head string. On several occasions, Archer failed to meet the requirement, which had the American steaming following his 8-5 loss.
"It's not a bad rule," Archer said, "as long as you're getting a good rack. I wasn't checking the rack closely enough, and I got a couple of 'slugs.'"
The semifinals provided stellar match-ups, with Appleton taking on Immonen and Van Boening facing van den Berg. And while the smart money said Van Boening and Immonen would meet for the title, van den Berg and Appleton had other ideas.
Van den Berg continued his solid breaking, while Van Boening struggled. The 25-year-old South Dakota native scratched on his first shot following the opening break, and before he knew it, van den Berg had raced to a 3-0 lead. The Dutch shooter then trapped Van Boening into a three-foul loss of game, and ran out from the break for a shocking 5-0 advantage.
Trying to muster a comeback, Van Boening won the next two racks, but his break once again betrayed him in the ninth game. That would prove to be his final trip to the table, as van den Berg cleared that rack and ran the final two from the break for a convincing 8-2 win and a spot in the title match.
"We use these rules on the EuroTour," van den Berg admitted, "and I've worked a lot on the cut break. It was nice to make balls and have an open shot at the 1 or 2 in most of the racks."
"I tried everything I could," Van Boening said after the match. "I just couldn't get the break right. And when he missed or came up empty on the break, I never really had an open shot. It was frustrating."
As if on cue, Appleton quickly fell behind Immonen, 3-0, in the other semi. And equally predictable, the Brit used several Immonen mistakes and three runouts to build a 6-3 lead.
Immonen narrowed the margin to 6-5, then 7-6, but another miss by the Finn allowed Appleton to finish off the match, 8-6.
"I played horrible," said Immonen. "Call it an early Christmas present for my opponent. I just made too many dumb mistakes."
If Appleton was, indeed, receiving good fortune at his opponent's expense, the trend continued in the finale. After two days of hammering the rack with almost flawless effectiveness, the table suddenly turned on van den Berg. The 1 ball stopped racing into the side pocket (the typical result of a cut break), and the corner ball stopped finding the corner. Two illegal breaks and a pair of empty breaks derailed the hot Dutchman.
To his credit, Appleton put in a gutsy performance. He pounced on van den Berg's miscues, the worst of which was drawing the cue ball straight back up the side rail for a scratch, trailing just 3-1. Appleton also benefited from a fluke combination with the score 5-3.
Still, the Englishman produced several workmanlike runouts, and shot true on a gutsy 4-9 combination to finish the match, 8-4.
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.