Poland’s Wiktor Zielinski received the full U.S. Pro Billiard Series experience on Saturday night.
Playing on the final day of the Alfa Las Vegas Open, he shut out Switzerland’s Dimitri Jungo 4-0 in the first set of the quarterfinals only to have Jungo defeat him by the same 4-0 score in the following frame. He survived back-to-back shootouts, first against Jungo and then against Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer Mika Immonen in the semifinals. And in the finals against Aloysius Yapp, he looked like he’d miss his chance to snag the opening set only to have a fortunate roll toss it right back into his lap.
Through it all, the 21-year-old persevered, defeating Yapp in straight sets 4-3, 4-0 to win the Open at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, pocketing $30,000 and an automatic invitation into next year’s World 10-Ball Championships. Zielinski not only won, but did so in an event that was equal parts double-elimination tournament and endurance test, with a record 192 players competing over four days to crown a champion.
After Yapp climbed onto the board in the first set with an opening rack win, Zielinski used a victorious safety exchange and a missed 2 ball from his opponent to jump out to a 2-1 advantage. Yapp snagged the next two games when he ran out the fourth rack after his opponent couldn’t pocket a ball on the break, then added a break-and-run but relinquished table control in the sixth game when he failed to pocket any balls on the break. Zielinski cleared the table to tie the match only to break dry again in the seventh game.
As Yapp worked his way through the rack, he appeared positioned to clear the table and snatch the set until he overran position on the 6 ball and played safe. Zielinski left an opening after a safety attempt of his own but watched as Yapp left the object in front of the side pocket, handing his opponent a routine shot and a 4-3 first set victory.
The second Set was all Zielinski, taking advantage of a Yapp miss, a victorious safety exchange and a break-and-run to build a commanding 3-0 lead. The young man from Singapore had one last chance to mount a comeback in the fourth rack but watched as the cue ball caromed off of another ball into the side pocket after he pocketed the 1 ball. Zielinski cleared the table then tossed his cue on the table and raised both arms in victory.
The three-time EuroTour champion earned the victory despite struggling with his break throughout the championship match, failing to pocket balls on the opening shot four times and scratching once.
Zielinski reached the finals by overcoming unforced errors and breaking struggles of his own to down a resurgent Mika Immonen in a shootout in the first semifinal match of the afternoon.
After Zielinski used a foul and scratch by Immonen in the first two games to take a 2-0 lead, the Hall of Famer tied the score by capitalizing on a dry break by his opponent in the third game then tacking on a break-and-run. As Immonen worked his way through the fifth rack, he misplayed position on the 4 ball then fouled when he failed to make contact with the ball. Zielinski cleared the table to grab a 3-2 lead then took advantage of an opening left by his opponent on a safety attempt in the following game to claim the set, 4-2.
The young man from Poland would struggle in the second set and Immonen took advantage, capitalizing on missed shots by his opponent in the first and fifth games and a dry break in the fourth rack to steal victories. Zielinski continued to battle, taking advantage of two Immonen breaks where he failed to pocket a ball to snag wins of his own. Standing at the table with a 3-2 advantage, the Hall of Famer broke and ran to send the match to an extra set shootout.
Immonen struggled in the spot shot extra frame, missing on his first and third attempts while Zielinski managed only one missed shot I three tries. The 49-year-old Immonen continued to apply pressure to his young opponent, making his fourth and final attempt and forcing Zielinski to either make his last attempt and secure the victory or miss and move on to sudden death. The young man from Poland calmly executed the shot, ending the match and sending Zielinski to the championship match to face Yapp.
Playing in the quarterfinals against Poland’s Mateusz Sniegocki, Yapp controlled the opening set from the start and cruised to a 4-1 victory. Sniegocki, a three-time winner on the EuroTour, was far from finished, taking advantage of a couple of openings and squeaking out a 4-3 win to force sudden-death shootout.
When Yapp and Sniegocki locked up to determine who would advance to the semifinals, it practically looked two guys in practicing free throws at the end of a basketball game. Neither one missed, as 10 ball after 10 ball continued to tumble into the corner pocket. They remained deadlocked after the opening innings, then remained tied after the first round of sudden death, then the third, and then the fifth. Finally, in the 11th frame of the set, Yapp successfully pocketed his ball and watched as his opponent blinked, handing the young man from Singapore the win.
As he advanced to the semifinals, Yapp had to be wondering who he may have upset in Warsaw to receive the draw he did. Waiting for him was Wojciech Szewczyk, a 27-year-old who twice won the European Pool Championships as a junior.
The Pole jumped out to an early 2-0 advantage in the first set thanks to a victorious safety exchange and a missed 4 ball by his opponent in the second rack. Yapp climbed onto the board in the third game after his opponent failed to pocket a ball on the break but lost control of the table in the next game when he lost a safety exchange with Szewczyk, who cleared the table to take a commanding 3-1 lead. Yapp tied the score with back-to-back victorious safety exchanges on the 1 ball but forfeited the table again when he failed to pocket a ball on the break. Szewczyk appeared positioned to clear the table but missed a cut shot on the 6 ball, handing Yapp the table and the victory, 4-3.
After Yapp won the first rack of the second set he scratched on the break in the next game, handing the table back to his opponent who tapped in a combination shot on the 10 ball to tie the score. Szewczyk added another rack after his opponent scratched after pocketing the 6 ball but misplayed a safety on the 1 ball in the next game that allowed Yapp to carom the cue ball from the 1 ball into the 10 ball and tie the score. Standing at the table with a chance to regain the lead, Yapp failed to pocket a ball on the break once again and watched as his opponent walked to the table and once again fired in a combination shot on the 10 ball to regain the lead. Yapp had chance to tie the match after Szewczyk failed to pocket a ball on the break but misplayed position on the 6 ball, then lost a safety exchange on the ball which allowed his opponent to win the set and send the match to a shootout.
Shockingly, the player who had pocketed 11 consecutive spot shots in the previous match, missed his first attempt. Then he missed his third. Thankfully for him, Szewczyk was struggling as well, missing three straight shots down the stretch to hand Yapp the victory, 3-2.
Find the Alfa Las Vegas Open brackets on the Predator Pro Billiard Series website.
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