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Little-know Filipino steals spotlight
by Mason King Jul 17, 2004, 12:29 AM EST

Marlon Manalo

Unassuming 28-year-old Marlon Manalo has emerged as the Cinderella story of the World Pool Championships. The qualifier from the Philippines beat heavily favored countrymen Francisco Bustamante (the runner-up in 2002) in the round of 32, and Efren Reyes (world champion in 1999) in the round of 16 to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

The most striking aspect of Manalo's impressive run has been his dour countenance after beating his countrymen. "It's bittersweet," Manalo said with a frown after besting Reyes. "He's my role model playing pool. But I have to beat him, because if I don't, he will beat me."

A poolroom owner in Manila and a frustrated snooker devotee, Manalo is virtually unknown outside the Philippines, and in fact isn't much of a name inside his home country either. After thrashing Reyes, 11-4, on Friday night, he painfully admitted to journalists that he had trouble earning invitations to national tournaments, high-profile money matches and the San Miguel Asian 9-Ball Tour, as well as finding anyone interested in playing snooker.

Manalo's convincing victory over Reyes should earn him some respect. Looking more like Reyes than the legendary "Bata" himself, Manalo didn't miss a single shot in their match as he calmly patrolled the cloth and stitched together seemingly effortless runouts. Neither rushing nor hesitating, Manalo had the fluidity of a short-order line cook, always thinking ahead several steps and executing the shots at hand with a smooth, dispassionate dispatch.

With the score at 4-1 in Manalo's favor, Reyes had a chance to put on a charge, but missed a 5 ball. Manalo stretched his lead to 7-1, during which time he engineered several fancy shots, including a 1-3 combination and 5-8 combo in the sixth rack. Of course, no lead is safe against Reyes, and even with Manalo leading 10-2 in the race-to-11, there was a sense of anticipation in the arena that Reyes could pull off a miracle after another Manalo scratch. But an audience of millions watching the match live across Asia on ESPN Star Sports would be denied a dramatic finish, as Reyes scratched on his break in the 15th rack, leading to a quick Manalo runout.

Now in the quaterfinals, Manalo is guaranteed to take home at least $10,000 in prize money, his largest payday so far for a tournament. But he's not looking any farther ahead than his next match.

"Nine-Ball is anybody's game," he said.

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