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Strickland advances at WPC Day Six
by Mason King Jul 16, 2004, 3:02 AM EST

Earl Strickland

Earl Strickland was able to avoid the fate of several fellow former world champions on Thursday by besting home-crowd favorite Che-Wei Fu, 9-7, in the third round of the World Pool Championship at the World Trade Center in downtown Taipei.

Earlier in the round, former titleholders Mika Immonen, Oliver Ortmann and defending champion Thorsten Hohmann failed in their bids to return to glory and claim the tournament's $75,000 first-place payday. Thirty-two players started the round, which featured no fewer than seven Taiwanese players. This of course delighted the local fans who have been packing the tournament venue by the thousands since the event began July 10. And on Thursday evening, they were standing five- and six-men deep to catch a glimpse of favorite-son Fong-Pang Chao in his defeat of Malaysia's Patrick Ooi, 9-5, and packing the stands surrounding the main TV table to watch Fu take on the mercurial Strickland.

Promoter Matchroom Sport scheduled the Fu-Strickland tilt as the marquee matchup last of the evening and the highly-skilled Fu and always magnetic Strickland didn't disappoint. Fu got off to a 4-0 lead in the race-to-9 with some very coolly played run-outs, while "The Pearl" fussed over perceived slights by Fu and what he considered a lack of respect from the obviously partisan crowd.

At several points during the first four games, Strickland even appeared to fall asleep, closing his eyes and slumping back in his chair. And when afforded a chance at the table, he repeatedly hailed the referee to complain about Fu fidgeting in his chair and taking ill-timed sips from his water bottle. "I'm not even watching him play, and when I get up and shoot, he has to drink water like he's in the Sahara and dying of thirst," Strickland told BD after the match. "I can't stand it. It's a dead shark. I don't care what anybody says it's deliberate. Nobody could be that thirsty playing pool."

Strickland earned a spot at the table after jumping out of a Fu safety and potting a tough 2 ball. Then, employing a soft break that hardly ever failed to sink the right-corner ball of the rack in the right corner pocket, Strickland rattled off four straight games to tie the match, 4-4. Fu returned after a Strickland safety in the ninth game and nailed a spectacular one-rail kick shot that resulted in a successful two-rail bank. He quickly built a 6-4 lead before missing a cross-corner bank. Now with some fire in his eyes, Strickland methodically dissected four more racks and appeared to be on his way to victory when he missed the 6 ball, prompting an explosive roar from the crowd. Fu ran out from there, bringing the score to 8-7, and then sank the 4 on his break. With a tough shot on the 1, Fu played safe, but left some daylight for his foe. Strickland's subsequent safety left the 1 about five inches from the corner pocket but blocked from the cue ball and uncomfortably close to the side rail for a cross-corner bank. With little choice, Fu tried the bank and missed the 1 by a whisker. So, with ball in hand, Strickland was able to sweep up and earn a 9-7 victory.

The Pearl extolled the virtues of his soft-breaking strategy after the match. "If they keep me on this table, they're going to have a hard time getting me out of this tournament," he said. "That corner ball [in the rack] is wired. I don't have to hit them hard. I'll run 1,000 racks on this table."

The same table had witnessed the expulsion of two former champions earlier in the evening. Finland's Immonen, the 2001 title-holder, couldn't overcome the steady, solid play of Sweden's Niclas Bergendorff, losing 9-7. And the wily Efren Reyes, himself a winner in 1999, topped 1995 champion Ortmann, 9-6. [Johnny Archer, winner in 1992 and 1997, survived a scare on the table against Canadian Luc Salvas, stringing together five straight racks after Salvas took a 6-4 lead.] Elsewhere in the arena, Germany's Hohmann, who came from nowhere to shock the 2003 field, spent most of his third round match against Chin Ching Kang in the spectator's chair as the Taiwanese potter ran out an easy 91 winner.

Play will continue Friday with the round of 16. For up-to-the-minute scores, check the Matchroom Sport Web site at www.worldpoolchampionship.com.

Efren Reyes

Tournament Notes
Members of the American contingent at the World Pool Championships were taken aback by the attention lavished on the tournament by the Taiwanese media and spectators, not to mention the elevated status of the game in Taiwanese culture. The Asia-based ESPN Star Sports network televised the tournament live, and then showed replays seemingly around the clock. Results from the event were splashed over the front pages of local newspapers' sports sections. And local TV commercials featured such Taiwnese stars as 2004 Amway Cup winner Shin-Mei Liu, a Taiwan native. "Pool is regarded here as such a major sport," said American Danny "Kid Delicious" Basavich, who squeaked through the group stages but was edged in the first round of the field-of-64 knock-out stages by Filipino Francisco Bustamante, 9-2. "It's unbelievable. I feel almost like a baseball player in the United States. I've signed hundreds if autographs."

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