After heading North to Coventry (and putting the wrong hotel in my satnav) I arrived later than planned on Thursday evening to join my battle-weary colleagues who had been there since the start on Tuesday, earlier than that for those setting up the tables and the technology. Lucky for me I was in plenty of time for the trick-shot exhibition from 9-ball Hall of Famers Mike Massey and Tom Rossman who delighted a packed arena with a heady mixture of comedy and skill with some of the shots included having the wow factor, and seeing seasoned 8-ball professional players asking each other “how did he do that”, which is some praise for gentlemen in their later years.
On to the competitive pool, and I did get one prediction correct (a long odds-on shot sadly) as some of the strongly fancied contenders took a tumble at a far earlier stage that they would have anticipated, including previous champions Craig Marsh and Gareth Hibbott, as well as seeded contenders Cory Rees and Dean Shields, in a brutal first few days where others clearly stepped up on past performances.
By Friday afternoon, and as the C4 YouTube audience continued to grow, we were down to the last 16 of the main event, while various Ladies, doubles, mixed doubles, seniors, masters and so on continued in the background. Partisan groups of pool fans made their feelings clear as the weekend rolled on, backing their selections with cash at various odds but in all honestly, this was proving to be one of the toughest competitions to call of all time.
Saturday saw us down to the last four, and by then we had also lost players of the calibre of early favourite Marc Farnsworth, Scottish Number One Mark Boyle, and previous winner Ben Davies, as Tom Barley and Craig Brown moved forward to take on Simon Ward and Clint I’Anson respectively. All four players were clearly at the top of their game but it was Simon and Clint who moved though by three sets to one to set up a mouth-watering clash for the title.
Meanwhile, the Ladies continued to their final four with Emma Reeves playing Kirsty Klugston in the first semi-final, and Amy Beauchamp meeting Danielle Randle in the other. Both Emma and Amy were in scintillating form as they won 2-0 in sets before moving on to the TV table to strut their stuff in front of a watching audience. To be fair to both players, neither lost their nerve in front of the cameras as they did themselves proud, though the odd small error or run of the ball gave Amy the advantage as she regained her crown, after a match that proved to all just how far the ladies game has come in recent years.
Back to the Open and a packed arena awaited both players with plenty of support in either corner as the final swung in Clint’s favour in the first set before Simon bounced back with some stunning pool to let his opponent know this would be no walkover. Both players are more than capable of knuckling down for a tactical battle when the need arises and so it proved as we watched them mix and match clearances with chess on a pool table before Clint finally came out on top with 4 sets to 2 success in a contest that lived up to all the early expectations.
After a night celebrating for some, the rest of us had to get up to work the next day with not one but four more finals to get through, and the first on the TV table was the Masters, where those of a certain age (over 50 I believe) had their own tournament, though anyone thinking the standard would drop were very much mistaken. Steve Wall is one of pool’s nice guys and with the obvious exception of his opponent in the final (Wayne Fryer, who played like a man possessed all week), most people were delighted to see him crowned Champion after a one-side final that saw him come home the 7-1 winner.
Next up we had the seniors (over 40s) where Marc Farnsworh was a man on a mission after failing to win the Open as expected much to the delight of the bookmakers who had sent him off a short-priced favourite. He isn’t the World Number One without good reason, and challenger Wayne Parker looked shell-shocked as he was whitewashed 8-0 with Marc playing pretty much faultless pool. It seems reasonable to suggest that taking out players of the calibre of Mark Boyle and Garerth Hibbott in the quarter and semi finals may have taken their toll on the popular South African but to his credit, he took the loss with a wry smile and will no doubt be back looking to go one better in 2024, whereas Marc will be looking for his hat-trick after winning this in 2022 as well.
The doubles is the only event where a 6-6 scoreline leads to a blackball shootout, and it went to script as the pairings of Hill and Monaghan, and Newlove and Robinson took it all the way to the wire. A best of five black off the spot shootout entailed with the pressure tangibly building in the arena, but all the players held their nerve with just the one rattled black being the difference between the pairs as the old/young pairing of Hill and Monaghan came out on top after the most thrilling of finishes to any match all week.
One to go – the Mixed Doubles, and we saw Faul and Klugston up against a pairing of World Champions in I’Anson and Beauchamp, who were looking to retain their Crown and double up on the weekend. Racing in to as 3-0 lead it was the underdogs who looked all set to land the spoils but you don’t get to be a World Champion in this sport without skill and determination and the favourites battled back to come home 6-3 winners at the death, completing a memorable week for all concerned, and leaving them needing a Securicor van to take home all their trophies.
Fancy getting involved in pool – there are still places on the IPA Tour (selling fast) with full details on the website at www.ipapool.com with the first event of the 2023 tour at Newcastle starting on the 31st of March – and we will be there with All4 to bring you all of the action as it unfolds.