Taiwan's Wu elevated his game during a four-game comeback. [Photo by Mike Howerton]
Few people in attendance or watching on TV across Asia believed the Englishman had the slimmest of chances in the race-to-13, winner-breaks final. Except for a brief spell in the semifinal, Wu had been playing flawless pool. His two world titles proved he could handle the pressure.
Appleton, though, proved his mettle. He won the lag, then ran the first rack. In the second frame, Wu played a bad jump shot, and Appleton cleared the table. After Wu missed on the 1 ball in the third, the Englishman cleared again to go up 3-0. Wu finally got on the board, but Appleton was clearly in control. He broke and ran out two more racks for a 6-1 lead.
Wu took advantage of a botched safety by Appleton to return to the table and stitch together a three-game streak. But at 6-4, a dry break allowed Appleton to seize the reins and build his lead to 10-5.
Appleton scratched on the break in the 16th rack, and as he watched the white ball disappear into the pocket, he slammed his cue tip hard onto the side of the table. The brief outburst seemed to signal a shift in the match. Wu ran the table, then made a 3-10 combination in the subsequent rack to move within three games. He played a perfect safety in the next game, causing Appleton to foul and leaving an elementary runout for the Taiwanese. Wu then shattered the next rack and deposited its remains to pull within one game, 10-9.
Wu tried to pocket the 1 ball with a jump shot in the next rack, but the cue ball bounced off the table. Appleton had been sitting for 20 minutes but coolly cleaned the table to make it 11-9. Another Wu miss put Appleton on the hill, 12-9. In the tense 22nd rack, Appleton left the 1 ball exposed in a loose safety. Wu dropped it, and then, with everything on the line, he buried two cross-table banks in the top corner and broke up a two-ball cluster to engineer a clutch runout. With Appleton biting his nails, Wu calmly broke and ran the next rack, 12-11.
Appleton finally got his chance after a dry break from Wu in the 24th frame left a generous layout, including four balls in the jaws. Holding his nerve, the Englishman slowly disposed of the colors down to an easy 10. When the blue-and-white ball disappeared, Appleton dropped his head for a moment in utter relief and disbelief at his accomplishment.
"Today I just felt better about myself," said Appleton. "I had a very good feel for the cue. It felt light in my hand. I only missed one ball in the match.
"I know myself. My biggest strength is the mental side of the game. And I knew after I got through last night, I knew today I'd be OK. I never felt nervous or pressured. I felt nervous in a good way. When he came back at me, I felt a little bit of pressure. But I felt good at the table. In the last rack, I felt great. I think I have a good, solid game, whether it's tactical or making the balls. I have a pretty good mind for the game. I just love playing 10-ball."
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