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IN SEPTEMBER, Matchroom Sport announced that the 20th World Pool Masters event would be held in Kielce, a city of 200,000 in central Poland. The U.K. sports promotions firms had a history with the country, hosting nine World Pool League events in Warsaw, the last of which in 2006.
Still, the decision to set up shop in the Hala Legionow was a bit surprising, considering the Masters has made stops in Las Vegas and Manila in recent years. After one short weekend of pool, though, a quartet of Polish sharpshooters performed at a level that nobody could have guessed before the 16-player, single-elimination event kicked off.
Perhaps nobody but Matchroom Sport chairman Barry Hearn, that is.
"The standard of pool in Poland has increased dramatically in the intervening years," he said, noting the firm's retuned to the country after a five-year absence when the venue was announced. "I'm sure that come October one of the four Polish players in the field will have every chance of lifting the Masters crown."
Poland, despite a strong contingent of players on the EuroTour, has never been confused with Germany or England as a top source of European talent. International journeyman Radoslaw Babica has a number of top 10 finishes in topflight competition; new Polish No. 1 Mateusz Sniegocki has performed well on the continental tour, rising to 30th in the points rankings; and in September, the tandem of Karol Skowerski and Wojciech Szewcyk nearly knocked off Matchroom Sport's World Cup of Pool, falling just two racks short in the final to Finland.
But those little murmurs turned into a massive roar at the World Pool Masters, held Oct. 5-7. Those four Poles were not among the eight ranked players, headlined by former champs Ralf Souquet, Dennis Orcollo, and Darren Appleton.
With a format of winner-breaks races to 8, the World Pool Masters is an event that's ripe for upsets. And Sniegocki announced that the hometown boys wouldn't be laying down for the star-studded field. Facing six-time champ Souquet, the 27-year-old from Poznan managed to hold a small lead through the first half of the Masters' first match.
But Souquet knotted the set at 6-6, and it looked like the German's experience would trump any home-field advantage. But Souquet ceded control of the table, and Sniegocki buried a tricky bank on the 5 ball that propelled him to a thrilling 8-6 victory.
The World Cup silver medalists Skowerski and Szewcyk kept pace, both edging heavily favored opponents. Skowerski, who resides in Kielce, thumped an out-of-sorts Shane Van Boening, 8-2, while Szewcyk clipped third-seeded Ko Pin-Yi of Taiwan in the case game.
The final match of the opening round pitted Babica against Mika Immonen. On the hill with a 7-3 lead, Babica looked all but assured of making it an improbable four-for-four in the opening round for Poland. But the Finn collected the next five racks for an 8-7 comeback win.
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