Early on, it appeared Mika Immonen couldn’t do anything wrong in his round-of-32 match against Chia-Chen Hsieh.
Then in the second half of the match, it seemed like he couldn’t do anything right.
But when the match reached the crucial phase, he was perfect.
Regardless of how it looked on that stat sheet, what matters is that the 49-year-old Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer punched his ticket to the final day round of 16 at the Alfa Las Vegas Open. Immonen battled back from a mistake-prone second set against Hsieh to win in a shootout, 2-0. He will now face Marc Bijsterbosch Saturday morning at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino.
After suffering a third-round loss in a shootout to Wojciech Szewczyk on the winner’s side, Immonen rallied to qualify for the 64-player single-elimination phase with a shootout victory against Michael Schneider then took out Spain’s Jonas Souto in straight sets in the first round of single-elimination play. He then matched up with Hsieh, who took advantage of a missed 7 ball by his opponent to climb onto the scoreboard first. The two-time U.S. Open 9-Ball champion followed up the error with a victorious safety exchange, a successful combination shot on the 10 ball and a break-and-run to take the next three games. Hsieh added another rack after his opponent left an opportunity following a safety, but couldn’t get any closer as his opponent closed out the set, 4-2.
The second set was all Hsieh, who took advantage of two missed shots by his opponent then added a break-and-run to build a 3-0 advantage on his way to an easy 4-1 victory to force a shootout. Although Hsieh exhibited stellar shot making down the stretch in the second set, his ball pocketing was anything but during the deciding spot shot shootout as he missed three consecutive shots. Meanwhile, Immonen had suddenly found his stroke again, executing back-to-back cut shots to secure the win and advance to Saturday.
Qualifying for the final 16 is one more milestone for the former World 9-Ball champion during a run of consistent and strong play over the last six months. After a top-five finish at the International Open in November, the Hall of Famer opened 2022 with a fourth-place finish at the Turning Stone Classic and a sixth-place performance in the Derby City Classic’s 9-ball division.
Meanwhile, on Thursday night, Carlo Biado was sent to the one-loss side of the bracket by another Hall of Famer attempting to jumpstart his career again – England’s Darren Appleton. Twenty-four hours later, after surviving a shootout against Avinash Pandey to reach the single-elimination phase, the reigning U.S. Open Pool champion was the one playing the role of spoiler as he sent reigning World Pool Masters champion Alex Kazakis packing in straight sets, 4-3, 4-2.
The Filipino built an early 2-0 advantage in the first set but left an opening in the third rack when he missed the 5 ball, allowing Kazakis to clear the table and narrow the deficit to 2-1. The Greek then failed to pocket a ball on the break in the fourth game, allowing Biado to clear the table and climb onto the hill, 3-1. Kazakis was far from finished, taking advantage of a victorious safety exchange and a Biado foul to tie the match, 3-3. Standing at the table with a chance to steal the first set, the Greek broke the balls and watched as the cue ball was kicked into the side pocket, handing his opponent the table and the match-winning rack.
It would be a common problem for Kazakis throughout the match, as he scratched on the break again in the second game of the second set after taking a 1-0 advantage then failed to pocket a ball on the break in the fourth rack after regaining the lead, 2-1. Biado tied the set, cleared the table in the fourth game to push his lead to 3-2, then closed out the set when his opponent again scratched while attempting a safety on the 1 ball.
The tournament shifted from double-elimination to the single-elimination second phase as afternoon transitioned into evening, leaving competitors battling for one of the 64 spots available in the knockout phase. One of those who failed to qualify for the single-elimination phase was American Skyler Woodward, who built an early 3-0 lead in his first set match again Roman Hybler of the Czech Republic only to watch his opponent win four consecutive games to snatch the frame, 4-3. Hybler continued to take advantage of open opportunities in the next frame, using two victorious safety exchanges and a missed 9 ball by his opponent to build a 3-0 lead. Woodward cut the lead to 3-2 thanks to a misplayed safety in the fifth rack, but the Kentuckian failed to pocket a ball on the break in the sixth game, handing Hybler the table and the match, 4-2.
Also eliminated from competition was five-time U.S. Open 9-Ball champion Shane Van Boening, who defeated Alex Pagulayan in a round-of-64 shootout, 4-2, only to fall in the next round to Yu-Lung Chang in a shootout, 4-2.
Competition resumes today at 10 a.m. local time with eight round-of-16 matches scheduled while the event’s four quarterfinal pairings are slated to begin at noon. The Open’s first semifinal match-up will follow at 2 p.m., the second is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. and the tournament will conclude at 7 p.m. with the finals.
Find the Alfa Las Vegas Open brackets with live scores on the Predator Pro Billiard Series website.
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