In the end, Van den Berg’s reach exceeded his grasp.
The first day of single-elimination play began to look more like championship pool. American hope John “Mr. 400” Schmidt ran 101 out of the box, then took his own sweet time for the next 99 to outlast Mike “The Pain From Maine” Dechaine. The Netherlands’ Huidji See, the 2007 runner-up, gamely came from 60 balls back to leave Deuel stuck on 197. And in two splendid all-German matches, Ortmann played wondrously in taking apart the ultra-dangerous Engert, and Hohmann caught the luckless Souquet again, 200-150.
(Souquet and Hohmann had an interesting moment you won’t see duplicated anywhere else: Hohmann left himself a fine behind-the-rack break shot, and Souquet, in racking, spilled the balls all over it. The two men are not only countrymen but close friends, so there was no real beef. But it’s a compelling an argument for referees, and this event did not have officiating or official scorekeeping for every match until the semifinals.)
Later, Van den Berg, who appeared at this point to be playing head-and-shoulders above the field, continued young Jentsch’s baptism under fire, 200-38. One table away, his countryman Feijen took out another tough customer, South Carolina’s talented Ignacio Chavez, 200-128. And Bustamante was extremely lucky to get by Harriman for the second time in the event, 200-131.
Ouschan, who finished fifth in 2006, extended her mojo by running another slew of balls, this time on Immonen, but he overcame her 100-ball lead and caught her at 166. The two took turns frittering away chances until Immonen hung up one ball too many, and Ouschan worried in the last 29 balls, 200-174.
That evening’s matches began with Feijen-Schmidt and See-Bustamante. See, the Netherlands’ third-ranked player behind Van den Berg and Feijen, is by far the more accomplished 14.1 player despite giving away decades, but none of that seemed to matter. The balls don’t notice how experienced their striker is. Bustamante laid down an utterly pattern-less run of 60-plus early, then another of 40-plus. See was never in it.
On the other table, Schmidt, playing more confidently and striking the ball more cleanly than he had all week, shot out to a 60-point lead — and then inexplicably lost his momentum. Feijen, unfortunately, simply could not cash in, even suffering the dreaded hiccup of three consecutive fouls. It was one of the game’s more dismal practical jokes: each player dragging the other down. Brutal to watch, it’s the equivalent of chess grandmasters’ pushing pawns around in an ineffectual endgame. (The 2007 final, between Ortmann and See, went exactly the same way.) With both men in the 180s, Schmidt had one more screw-up left in him and immediately conceded the alleged contest.
The Hohmann-Van den Berg encounter pitted the event’s most dominant champion — Hohmann in ’06 — against its most improved player. But Hohmann was not in ’06 form, or even his regular form, at least not for this match, and Van den Berg got by, 200-136. “Yes!” bellowed the winner (twice, in fact) as game ball dropped, a startling move for such a seemingly mild guy.
The matchup between Ouschan and Ortmann certainly favored the three-time 14.1 world champion and defending titleholder. It would be easy enough to root for Ouschan because she’s female — in fact, many do — but that just diminishes her capabilities. (Fixating on her glamour amounts to the same thing.) Among players, the novelty of her gender wore off quickly two years ago, when her fifth-place showing was the best-ever for a woman in a men’s world championship event. No other woman in the world has her sense of pace or anything close to it. She got 60 points in front of Ortmann, and he just could not find his rhythm again. With Ouschan’s 200-133 win, a woman would visit the final four of a men’s world championship for the first time in history.
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