The post was first published in the September 12, 2006 issue of The Manila Standard by none other than one of my favorite sports journalists – Ronnie Nathanielsz! *All article credits go to Ronnie Nathanielsz and The Manila Standard.
Without further ado, here is the great read in its entirety! Enjoy!
Bata Weaves Magic, Pockets $.5-m Prize!
EFREN “Bata” Reyes, carried on the wings of prayer of a nation and his own innate skill, won the International Pool Tour World Open 8-Ball Championship before a jam-packed venue at the plush Sierra Grande Resort Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada, early yesterday morning, beating US Open champion Rodney “The Rocket” Morris, 8-6, in the finals.
The 52-year-old Reyes bested a field of 200 of the finest pool players in the world at the end of seven days of continuous play of 10 to 12 hours in a grueling format that tested a player’s physical fitness as much as his concentration and talent.
Reyes pocketed the biggest prize in the history of pool—a cool $500,000 or P25 million. Together with his triumph in the inaugural King of the Hill showdown with American ace Mike Sigel last December, in which he won $200,000 and his previous victory in the $150,000 Tokyo 9-Ball Championship and his winner-take-all $100,000 Color of Money showdowns with Earl Strickland, the win placed him on top of the list of winners when big money is on the line.
Celebrated multimillionaire Kevin Trudeau, who in two short years has taken pool to unimaginable heights in terms of prize money and classy presentations, came out with a suitcase full of greenbacks and a handsome trophy for Reyes during the awards rites.
Both Reyes and Morris were hounded by empty breaks with neither player making a ball until the score reached 3-2 in favor of Morris.
Morris took the first rack before Reyes clawed back to take the next two for a 2-1 lead. Morris then put together three racks in a row when he dropped the 10-ball on the break and ran out to give him a 4-2 lead. Reyes battled back by taking tough back-to-back racks to tie the count at 4-4, before Morris’ normally solid break deserted him and he scratched on the break three times during the match, which proved to be a huge advantage for the Filipino. With the score tied at 5-5, Morris missed a tough shot on the 6-ball and Reyes pounced on the opportunity to take a one-game advantage at 6-5.
Reyes pocketed the 11-ball on the break, but cleared and then missed the 8-ball, which elicited “a collective gasp from the audience,” according to reporter Sally Timko of Inside Pool Magazine.
Morris played a smart safety, leaving the cue ball near the top rail with the 8-ball sandwiched between the 10 and 15. Reyes shot directly at the 8-ball, which dropped, as the cluster of Filipino and American fans of The Magician cheered lustily, only to be disappointed when referee Ken Schuman called a foul that had Morris’ supporters on the other side of the room, erupting into cheers.
In an overseas telephone conversation with Viva Sports/Standard Today while Reyes was enjoying a post-match celebration with Filipino players and friends as well, the Filipino champion said the referee made the correct call. “It was a foul really. I hit the two other balls before I pocketed the 8-ball.”
But after drawing level at 6-6, Morris, to his utter dismay, scratched for the third and last time at a crucial stage of the match and Reyes, with ball in hand, coolly raced to the hill, 7-6.
Luck was clearly on Reyes’ side. On his break, which was nowhere near his best, Reyes heaved a sigh of relief as the 15-ball collided with the 2, sending it flying into the corner pocket. Reyes’ second shot was a dicey carom on the 6-ball in which he evidenced the magical touch he has long been known for as the ball lingered for a split second on the lip of the pocket before gently rolling in. The rest was easy as the Filipino pool genius got immaculately perfect position on the 8-ball and with a stroke that was as smooth as silk, pocketed the 8-ball to win amid a roar from his countrymen and fans, who went wild.
Reyes’ 7-8 loss to Morris in the semifinal round, which was a nail-biter with plenty of frustrating breaks for both players and a few supernatural shots by The Magician, turned out to be a preview of the finals. Both men had nearly identical stats and were 20-8 in the tournament.
Morris had a game-won percentage of 60.37 to Reyes’ 60 percent, although The Rocket had the edge in break and run-outs 89 to 69. But as tournament director and IPT chief operating officer Deno Andrews said: “Reyes has the edge in the fact that, well, he’s Efren Reyes!”
In his interview with Viva Sports/Standard Today, Reyes spoke about the effects of the daily competitive grind, saying with a hearty laugh: “I am a kid, look at my name. It’s Bata.”
In a more serious vein, he said the full-house “scared me and since the prize was so big, I was very nervous.”
He said Morris, as well as the British players Mike Hill, Kenny Boyles and “had excellent breaks and I had one of the weakest. But today, Rodney couldn’t get a ball to drop on his break and it was worse for him because he scratched three times. That’s what probably helped me win.”
Reyes said he couldn’t explain this but noticed it was “ particularly difficult to make a ball on the break in the afternoons because nothing dropped. The only exception was Oliver Ortmann who always pocketed a ball on the break.”
Rolly Vicente, the longtime manager of the Filipino players, whose careers have been supported by the acknowledged Godfather of Philippine pool Ariesteo “Putch” Puyat, said Morris was “a tough opponent but he was probably awed by Efren. He was overcome by nerves, no matter what. They were both nervous but it was great to watch.”
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