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Breakout Performance

It was only a matter of time before Aloysius Yapp broke in the winner's circle. In Michigan, the 25-year-old Singapore star served notice that his time is now.

By Keith Paradise

Photos By Matt Porinsky

As summer transitioned into fall, it started to become apparent that Aloysius Yapp was on the verge of breaking into the winner's circle.

After starting the summer with a top-17 finish in the 256-player World Pool Championships, the 25-year-old from Singapore added a top-10 performance at the Diamond Las Vegas Open and tacked on a top-three placing at the World 10-Ball Championships a few days later. Yapp then traveled cross-country to Atlantic City where he reached the final of the U.S. Open Pool Championships, jumping out to a sizable advantage against Carlo Biado early in the title match before Filipino caught him down the stretch to earn the coveted crown.

“I still definitely have lots to learn but I would say I definitely trust and believe in myself a lot more now than before,” said Yapp after the event. “I could feel I was thinking and seeing things more positively.”

Yapp definitely saw a lot more positives a week later at the CSI Michigan Open, as he battled back from the one-loss side to earn his first career professional victory, avenging a previous loss to Roberto Gomez Jr. of the Philippines in straight sets in the title match. Earning the championship in the four-day, 51-player double-elimination event put a capper on what was a very lucrative month for the young man, who earned $50,500 in tournament earnings for September, nearly surpassing nine years of career winnings in a single 30-day stretch.

“It gives me confidence for sure that I am playing my game and thinking well,” said Yapp. “I didn't think too much even though the past few tournaments before that I did well. I just looked at this as a fresh start and looked forward to enjoying the tournament and doing my best.”

The 2020 pandemic allowed Yapp to focus on believing in himself. In 2021 he's got everyone believing in him.

The fact that Yapp ever discovered the game at all is a bit of a happy accident. As a young boy his first real love had been soccer, with the sport being easily accessible. Many days he would come home from school, click the television to local sports channel and a live match would be on. One afternoon, the 10-year-old Yapp arrived home to find that his favorite game had been replaced for the afternoon with pool. The colorful balls, the green cloth. He was mesmerized.

“It just looked like a new game at the time, and I guess I took a lot of interest from there,” Yapp said.

That's putting it mildly. Yapp initially quit classes at St. Patrick's School in Singapore in 2011 to focus more on pool, ultimately enrolling in a program at Coleman College that allowed him to work on his game and studies with a more flexible schedule. As a result, Yapp has become Singapore's first full-time professional pool player, earning income from not only tournament winnings but also funding from the country's Sports Excellence Scholarship program.

Yapp earned international recognition in 2014, when he won the WPA World Junior 9-Ball Championship. He made a quick transition to the professional level, placing ninth as a 19-year-old at the 2015 World Cup of Pool and ninth at that year's World 9-Ball championship. He added a top-five finish at the China Open in 2018 and earned top-10 finishes at the following year's U.S. Open 9-Ball championship, China Open, Japan Open and World 9-Ball. He opened his 2020 season by struggling to a top-25 finish at the Diamond Las Vegas Open hours before COVID-19 hit the pause button on billiards and basically the world. Yapp returned to Singapore and decided to use the time wisely, working with coach Toh Lian Han on strengthening fundamentals as well as his mental game – which, it turned out, needed a shot of confidence.

“I felt like I couldn't believe I could play at a high level,” said Yapp. “I kept doubting myself and during matches when I knew I had a chance to win or take the lead, I would choke.”

In Michigan, Yapp opened with victories against Filipino Warren Kiamco and Michael Schneider of Switzerland. Gomez then ushered him to the loser's bracket in straight sets in the race-to-four, two-set format.

“I struggled with my break and made a couple of mistakes because I couldn't get used to the table conditions,” said Yapp. “He broke really well and played almost flawless.”

Yapp's star has been on the rise, with a final-16 berth at the 2019 U.S. Open earning TV time.

Facing elimination, Yapp faced Tony Robles, with a berth in the single-elimination knockout phase hanging in the balance. The competitors battled back and forth in both sets, fighting to a match-deciding rack in each. Luckily for Yapp, Robles made mistakes in both deciding racks which allowed him to survive for another day, 4-3, 4-3.

“I was really lucky,” said Yapp. “Tony played well, and I had a tough time in that match. I made a couple of silly mistakes but also had some good shots when I needed to stay alive.”

After gutting out straight set victories against Greece's Alex Kazakis and Poland's Konrad Juszczyszyn during the final day's single-elimination phase, Yapp faced Hungarian upstart Oliver Szolnoki in the semifinals and jumped out to a quick 3-1 advantage. That lead evaporated, with the Hungarian pouncing on every mistake to tie the match. Szolnoki had a chance to close out the set, but failed to pocket a ball on the beak, allowing Yapp to clear the table.

“The decisive factor was that I left him a shot more times after the break,” said Szolnoki in discussing the differences between racking with a template rack versus a triangle. “I was 13 when we started using magic racks at every tournament, so I never practiced like this. The balls can't be racked so precisely and frozen with the triangle, even with a referee, so it's more like a matter of luck.”

The Hungarian jumped out to an early 3-1 advantage in the second set after Yapp scratched in the first and third games, but Yapp took advantage of another Szolnoki dry break and a victorious safety exchange to tie the score. After Yapp broke dry in the deciding game, his opponent appeared to be closing out the set and sending the match to a sudden death shootout but missed the 2 ball, allowing Yapp to close out the rack and the match, 4-3.

Yapp's breaking struggles continued into the finals, but he fought his way to a 2-0 advantage thanks to a misplayed safety by Gomez coupled with his lone-break-and-run. He then took advantage of a missed shot by his opponent in the next rack to increase the lead but failed to pocket a ball on the break in the following game. Trailing 3-0, the Filipino seemed to be on his way to his first win of the match but missed the 7 ball in the corner pocket which allowed Yapp to close out the set, 4-0.

Austria's He had Gomez on the ropes in the semifinals, but fell short in the shootout.

The second set was a mirror image of the first, as Yapp used a missed 2 ball in the opening game and misplayed safeties by Gomez in the next two racks to build a 3-0 lead. Gomez returned to the table in the fourth game after his opponent again failed to pocket a ball on the break and appeared to have a workable table layout but missed the 3 ball. Yapp had a chance to close out the match but gifted Gomez control of the table again when he scratched in the side pocket while attempting to secure position on the 8 ball. Gomez pocketed the remaining balls to climb onto the scoreboard, then took advantage of a misplayed safety from Yapp to cut the lead to 3-2.

At the table with a chance to tie the score, this time it was Gomez who could not pocket a ball on the break. Yapp slowly and methodically worked his way through the rack, sending the cue ball three rails after pocketing the 8 ball to secure position on the 9 ball, then slyly cracking a smile when he landed straight in position on the 10 ball for the win. After pocketing the game-winning ball, an overjoyed Yapp raised his cue in triumph with a large smile on his face.

The smile may have been out of relief as much as happiness, with Yapp surviving the final day as much as earned the win. In all, Yapp would fail to land a ball on the break six times during the championship match.

“I didn't think too much even though the past few tournaments before that I did well,” said Yapp. “I just looked at it like a fresh start and looked forward to enjoying the tournament and giving my best.”

The runner-up finish for Gomez was one more accolade in a year that's been chock full of them, with the Filipino placing in the top-five of regional, national or worldwide events 15 times – including a top-four finish in the Arizona Open, a fifth-place finish at the World Cup of Pool and a victory in the Diamond Open 10-Ball division.

Szolnoki is another young star who's stock has soared in '21.

After an opening round bye, Gomez took down American Dominic Brikho and Yapp to qualify for the tournament's final 16 single-elimination phase. The Filipino then defeated Thorsten Hohmann and reigning World 10-Ball champion Eklent Kaci to qualify for the semifinals – where he would have a bit more work to do than Yapp to reach the finals when he faced Mario He of Austria.

He pitched a shutout in the opening set, using a missed 6 ball from his opponent along with tactical safeties to win four consecutive games. Gomez responded by winning the first two games of the second set thanks to a run out after a safety coupled with a break-and-run. The Austrian cleared the table and climbed onto the scoreboard in the third rack after his opponent missed the 3 ball, then took advantage of another Gomez miss in the next game to tie the match. Gomez reclaimed the lead when He missed the 1 ball in the fifth rack, then closed out the set and forced a shootout when He failed to pocket a ball on the break in the sixth game.

The Filipino was perfect in the shootout, pocketing all four spot shots while He could only manage to land three of four attempts.

In all, the third-place finish was another solid performance for the Austrian, who has notched two top-five placings in EuroTour competition this year and at a top-10 at the U.S. Open the week before. The Austrian opened play with victories against Americans Justin Martin and Tyler Styer during the double-elimination phase of the tournament, then took down Lithuania's Pijus Labutis and Estonia's Denis

Grabe during the single-elimination portion before falling to Gomez. He's steady play would continue in the weeks following, as he turned in fourth place finish at the Diamond Open's 10-ball contest and would win CSI's FargoRate Ohio Open a few weeks later.

Also turning in a top-four finish in Michigan was Szolnoki, a 24-year-old from Hungary who has been hanging around near the top of leaderboards since breaking out with a semifinalist performance at the World Pool Championships in June.

Gomez kept the pressure on in the title match.

“For sure it gave me confidence so I believe that I can win tournaments, said Szolnoki. “But my game didn't change after that. So, I guess even if it helped it's more like some mental thing.”

The Hungarian definitely got his money's worth out of the format, surviving shootouts in both of his first two matches against American Kang Lee and Canadian John Morra to qualify for the final 16.

“I made all shots in every shootout, so I handled the pressure well,” said Szolnoki.

He then defeated Morra again as well as Singapore's Toh to qualify for the semifinals against Yapp where his breaking struggles contributed to a defeat.

“I played solid overall but I also made some mistakes I wouldn't expect myself to make,” he said.

A week later in South Carolina, the Hungarian's hot streak continued as he won the Diamond Open's 9-ball contest and placed seventh in the 10-ball competition, bringing his year's tournament earnings to $30,758 – which is more than double the $12,501 he had previously earned in his entire professional career.