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Rule, Britannia!

Feijen (above) blinked first during the semifinal slugfest with Appleton. [Photo by Mike Howerton]

In the absence of most of the top Filipino players at the World 10-Ball Championship, Pulpul set out to make a name for himself. He won one of the brutally tough qualifiers to earn a spot in the field. He entered the 64-player knockout stage with a 9-8 win over Taiwan's tough Yang Ching-Shun. He slipped past Austria's feared Jasmin Ouschan in a 9-8 match televised across Asia. In the round-of-16, he shocked Yang again with a 9-8 cliffhanger. He seemed charmed as he won in the quarterfinals, coming back against China's Lui Hintao, 11-8, to reach the semifinal match with Wu.

Pulpul had only 10 minutes to prepare for the Taiwanese teen. Wu reeled off five straight racks to start, and it looked to be a cruise to the final. But Pulpul then surged through seven straight games to move ahead, 7-5. The ride ended after Pulpul flubbed several easy shots, allowing Wu to close the match, 11-8.

Unlike Wu, Appleton came to Manila feeling confident. He'd performed well on the EuroTour this season, and a week before leaving for Manila he beat points-leader Imran Majid in the final of a GB 9-Ball Tour event in Mansfield, England.

But Appleton very nearly didn't make it past the top 64 in Manila, barely squeaking by Taiwan's Chia Hsiung Lai, 9-8. After destroying Korea's Ryu Seung Woo, 9-2, in the next round, Appleton fought Japanese veteran Satoshi Kawabata in the round-of-16. Tied at 8-8 in a race-to-9, Kawabata had chances on both the 7 and 8 balls, but succumbed to the heavy pressure and blew them both, letting Appleton escape into the quarterfinals. There he met America's Charlie Williams, who fell, 11-6.

Appleton then headed to the TV table for his semifinal match against Feijen. The brawny Dutchman came to Manila with his confidence high, having won the Predator World 14.1 Straight Pool Championship in August. On paper the match looked to be a heavyweight slug-fest, and it turned ugly for both players. Feijen jumped out to a 4-1 lead only to miss several easy shots and allow Appleton to tie it at 6-6. From there, the match seemingly devolved into a long safety battle, with both players straining under the intense pressure. The dogfight went to 9-9 before Appleton found a few openings and won the match, 11-9, three and half hours after it began.

"We both tried too hard," an exhausted Appleton said afterward. "I just felt flat. The cue felt heavy in my hand. I only had three hours sleep. But tomorrow, I promise you, I'm going to play better. I just know I am."

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