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Tournament Coverage

Lovefest For Strickland In Semis
by Mike Panozzo Jul 20, 2002, 6:49 PM EST

After a contentious afternoon, Earl Strickland was all business Saturday night in Cardiff.

"If they want to beat me," Earl Strickland said after thrashing Takeshi Okumura, 11-5, in the semifinals of the 2002 Hasseroder World Pool Championship in Cardiff, Wales, Saturday night, "they should let me run my mouth a little. I do better when I don't say anything."

Saturday night's win moves Strickland into the 2002 title match against Filipino Francisco Bustamante, an 11-7 winner over Ching-Shun Yang of Chinese Taipei in the other semifinal.

After receiving verbal warnings from tournament officials prior to his match against Japan's Okumura, the American fireball let his cue do the talking at the Cardiff International Arena and earned both the respect and the cheers of the sold-out crowd.

"They told me to tone down in this match," said Strickland, who sparred with both fans and his opponent during his 11-5 quarterfinal win over Japan's Kunihiko Takahashi. "But, hey. I'm going to play well either way."

Strickland was focused and precise in his surgical dissection of the racks Saturday night, rolling to a 9-2 lead. After a missed 3 ball, however, the cagey 50-year-old Okumura pulled out the next three racks to pull to within 9-5. Suddenly, Strickland had nightmares of the 2000 semifinal, when he held the same lead over Mexico's Ismael Paez, only to lose, 11-9.

"I've been in this position before," Strickland said. "And I started thinking, 'This can't happen to me again!' I felt I belonged in the final then, and I feel like I belong in the final this year. No offense to Okumura, but I can give Bustamante a better game. Just like two years ago. I would have been a better match for [eventual winner Fong-Pang] Chao than Paez."

Strickland insisted that his game has reached another level in Cardiff, and hopes to ride that game to his third WPA world 9-ball crown.

"I haven't won this event since '91," he said. "But I'm playing great right now, and the conditions are perfect. I've dreamed about this: Perfect, dry conditions, and me in dead stroke. Francisco's going to have a tough time beating me. He'd better come with eight or nine racks tomorrow night."

The winner of Sunday night's race-to-17 finale will receive $65,000 from the $300,000 prize fund. The runnerup will take home $30,000.

For complete Group standings, and Final 64 pairings, http://www.worldpoolchampionship.com/results.asp">click here:

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