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Rookie No More: Xiaoting Pan Scores First WPBA Win
Mar 26, 2007, 12:16 PM

While the first event of the 2007 Women's Professional Billiard Association season ended with Xiaoting Pan in tears, devastated by her second-place finish to Ga Young Kim, the second event may have the rest of the 64-woman tour crying. Pan, a 25-year-old Shanghai native, swept the field in authoritative fashion for her first-ever WPBA victory. Her youth, rigorous preparation and infallible precision may represent a new chapter in the elite women's tour: the Asian invasion.

The tournament began on the first day of spring this year, a fitting time of year for a young talent to shoot up from the ground. And, as the temperature reached the mid-70s on the final day of competition in Michigan City, Ind., things were heating up in host venue, the Blue Chip Casino.

Pan said that after her near-win in the first event, the Carolina Classic, she was going to do everything in her power to win the Great Lakes Classic, including bringing her coach along. She pummeled opponents on her way through the winner's side, including Julia Gabreil, 9-2, Wendy Jans, 9-7, and Tiffany Nelson, 9-7 to reach the final 16.

No. 2-ranked Karen Corr, who won three events last year, was upset by Hsin Huang, the 2004 Rookie of the Year, and fell to the one-loss side. Defending champion Allison Fisher, ranked no. 1, made quick work of her preliminary round opponents: 9-0, 9-2, and 9-5.

Neither Fisher nor Corr, who have dominated the tour for a decade, made it to the final in the 2007 inaugural event, and this event was no different.

After beating Gerda Hoftstatter, 9-4, Pan faced Fisher, who has been her hero and role model growing up. Tournament Director Steve Tipton calls Pan "the Asian Allison," and after last year's season, the record between them was 2-2. In their quarterfinal match-up in this event, Pan added another notch to her tally, making the lifetime record 3-2 in her favor with a shocking 9-4 win.

Meanwhile, Swedish tour stalwart, Helena Thornfeldt, came out on top of a tight match over Irish Invader Corr, 9-7, and then won a late-night marathon over Kim White, 9-4 to clinch a berth to the TV rounds.

Kelly "Kwikfire" Fisher, another British import, lived up to her nickname with a 9-1 thrash in a flash over Vivian Villarreal.

Carolina Classic winner Kim got revenge against Jeanette Lee after a third-round loss, beating her 9-8 in their second match-up. Kim then beat Sarah Ellerby, 9-5, to win her spot in the semifinal.

In the fourth and final day of the GLC, the players showed up fresh and camera-ready. Pan executed a rigorous pre-match workout with her coach near flawlessly. "This is the real deal," said Mark Wilson, assistant tournament director, as he watched in awe.

Pan faced Fisher in the first semifinal match. One might say she "panhandled" Fisher, jumping out to a 5-0 lead after capitolizing on an intentional foul that backfired on "Kwikfire." Fisher was able to get on the board in the sixth rack, after Pan missed the 3 ball, and made a game of it with a two more run outs in the next three racks. Pan broke and ran in the 10th game for the 7-4 win.

Kim, who was looking for a repeat victory, gave away the first rack to her opponent, Thornfeldt, with a missed 8 ball. Before she knew it, she was down 0-2, and searching the ceiling for answers.

A determined Kim came back to tie the score at 3-3, and again at 5-5. In the 11th rack, Kim broke and faced a difficult shot on the 2 ball. She took a risk in attempting a 2-9 combo and barely missed. That opened up the rack for Thornfeldt, who jumped out of the mess and made a 3-9 combo to get on the hill.

Kim had another opportunity to tie up the score when Thornfeldt missed the 1 ball after the break. But, a too-straight position on the 6 ball ended her run. Thornfeldt stepped up and secured the victory, 7-5, pointing to her biceps.

"I've been working out in the gym," said the jovial Swede.

The final would be 12-year veteran vs. the 2006 Rookie of the Year. The diminutive Pan looked comfortable in the spotlight, and revealed that this time, she was prepared.

Once again, Pan catapulted herself into an insurmountable lead while fans gasped in amazement at her perfect position and near-robotic prowess. "Sweet!" "Perfect." "I wish I could do that," were a few statements that rose from the rumble of the crowd. Pan was on the hill, 6-0, before Thornfeldt got on the board, thanks to a scratch on the break by Pan. She broke and ran the next rack, 6-2, before Pan took back control and ran out for the victory. Many spectators predict it will be the first of many.

Check out the May issue of Billiards Digest for an in-depth story and action photos from the Great Lakes Classic.