Things had not been going well for Eklent Kaci in the finals of the WPA World 10-Ball Championship.
He had watched opponent Francisco Sanchez Ruiz jump out to an early 5-1 advantage and had not really seen much time at the table other than a dry break and a couple of missed kick shots. Regardless, the Albanian sat quietly and just had a feeling his time would come.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Kaci. “I actually made a few nice kicks. I’m like, ‘just keep on playing.’ I’m trying to stay focused because it’s a world final and you don’t get in this position too often. I was just waiting my chances.”
And when he got his chance, Kaci kicked the door open with both feet, winning nine of the last 11 games to win his second World 10-Ball Championship Saturday evening at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The win not only gives Kaci another world 10-ball championship but also denied Sanchez Ruiz the opportunity to be the first player in history to hold world titles in 8-ball, 9-ball and 10-ball simultaneously.
“I cannot say that I feel bad because I had an unbelievable week,” said Sanchez Ruiz. “I played really good under pressure but in the final, I made a mistake and he played really well. His safety game is unbelievable and he deserved to win. But I am really happy with my performance here this week.”
The Spaniard came out on fire from the start with three breaks and runs in his first four trips to the table and, before Kaci had even gotten settled in his seat, Sanchez Ruiz had used a successful jump shot on the 3 ball to build that commanding lead in a race-to-10. Fortunes changed in the seventh game, when the Spaniard missed a shot on the 3 ball and gave his opponent new life, which he used to win five straight and to come all the way back and take a 6-5 lead.
Kaci, who also won this event in 2021, added a break-and-run of his own to increase his lead before finally failing to pocket a ball on the break in the 13th rack. However, a misplayed safety on the 1 ball by the Spaniard gave the Albanian an open layout which he used along with some stout safeties to build a comfortable 8-5 lead. Sanchez Ruiz attempted to claw back in the 14th rack when he took a safety shot from Kaci, turned it into a successful combination shot on the 4 ball and ran out to trim the lead to two racks He had a chance to pull within a game but missed the 4 ball in the corner pocket. After Kaci cleared the table to make it 9-6, the Spaniard tacked another rack on to pull with two games but lost a safety exchange on the 4 ball to leave a wide-open path to victory for Kaci.
The Spaniard reached the championship by defeating Russia’s Fedor Gorst in an epic, hill-hill battle in the semifinals.
The Spaniard drew first blood, winning a safety exchange after the break in the opening rack then was able to steal the second game when he forced Gorst into committing a foul on a safety. The Russian got on the board when Sanchez Ruiz left the 2 ball in the corner pocket’s jaws but his opponent was able to tack on another win in the next game when Gorst fouled attempting to touch the 2 ball. After the Russian won the fifth game on a safety exchange to cut the lead to 3-2, he tied the match by using another safety to force the Spaniard into a foul.
Gorst took his first lead of the match when he jumped the 2 ball in after a safety and ran out but his opponent knotted the score when Gorst scratched attempting to jump in the 2 ball. Sanchez Ruiz broke in the next rack and appeared to be in position to run out but missed the 5 ball, allowing Gorst to regain the lead on a safety battle. He then increased the margin to 6-4 when he got a fortunate roll on the 3 ball which resulted in a Sanchez Ruiz foul, then tacked on another win to push the lead to three games.
Sanchez Ruiz cut the deficit to 7-5 when Gorst missed a jump shot on the 1 ball but the Russian added on another game when he forced his opponent into a foul with a safety. Now trailing by three games, Sanchez Ruiz was able to tack on two games when his opponent scratched while attempting a safety in the 14th game then used a one-rail kick in of the 6 ball to propel him to another win. After the Spaniard failed to pocket a ball on the break in the 16th rack, Gorst appeared to be in position to clear the table but missed the 5 ball in the side, after safety by his opponent, the Russian jumped in two straight balls then pocketed the 7 ball on a called bank shot but also scratched, allowing Sanchez Ruiz to tie the score, 8-8.
After Gorst missed a jump bank shot on the 2 ball and the Spaniard won his fourth straight to retake the lead, he watched as his opponent used a one rail kick in of the 2 ball in the next rack to run out and tie the score. In a match that had already seemed to have everything, the two players engaged in a lengthy safety battle, with the Spaniard prevailing when he forced Gorst to commit three fouls – including a final one that occurred when Gorst kicked one rail at the ball and made contact but scratched.
In the other semifinal, Joshua Filler jumped out to an early 3-0 advantage but Kaci used a jump shot on the 1 ball to clear the fourth rack then tacked on another to pull within a game. The Albanian had a chance to run out in the next game but missed position on the 4 ball and was forced to kick at the ball and left a shot in front of the side pocket for Filler. After Kaci tacked on two wins to tie the score, the German won two of the next three games to take a 6-5 advantage. The former World Pool champion then misplayed a safety on the 1 ball and Kaci used the opening to win three straight and take an 8-6 lead.
The German was able to scratch out a victory in the 15th rack when he used a safety to force a Kaci foul, but the Albanian increased the lead back to two games after a missed 1 ball by Filler in the following game. The German wasn’t finished, using an opening on the 1 ball after a safety to clear the table and pull to within 9-8 but Kaci used successful safeties on the 1 and 8 balls in the 18th rack to close out the match, 10-8.
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