LAUSANNE - The spotlights of the Montbenon Casino in Lausanne are aimed at some of the world's best 3-cushion billiard players this week. Dutchman Dick Jaspers is one of the main contenders for the win in the Lausanne Billiard Masters, with Torbjon Blomdahl, Eddy Merckx, reigning World champion Sung-Won Choi, Tayfun Tasdemir and twofold winner Marco Zanetti. Outside, there is a grey veil over the Lausanne lake, the incessant rain pours down on the shoppers, and for the tournament's closing day, (Sunday) even some snow is expected. The Swiss who have a heart for 3-cushion have a good excuse to go to the casino.
Diane Wild and her team have succeeded for the third year in a row to bring the world's best to Lausanne. Not every single top player is here though, as a result of the format: Fredeic Caudron was not invited because his countryman Eddy Merckx, is higher on the World ranking. Dani Sanchez is also missing, the Koreans only have Sung-Won Choi. Those that are in the field have the quality to produce matches with averages over 2.000, and thrill the audience with high runs. For these high profile players, this is an ideal preparation for the World championshipVoor de kopstukken is het toernooi de perfecte voorbereiding voor het Wereldkampioenschap driebanden dat over tien dagen in Bordeaux van start gaat.
Lausanne is a tournament where unexpected things can happen. Eddy Merckx showed two sides of his game when he played Jeremy Bury. The Belgian dug a deep hole for himself (22-7 behind after 19 innings), only to climb out of it with formidable runs of 10-8-2-4 to turn the match around: 40-31 in 27 to the Belgian. "I saved my inner smile", was Merckx' s cryptic post mortem. Tayfun Tasdemir impressed with a 16-inning match against Torsten Danielsson (40-17) and a high run of sixteen. It is the Turk's First showing in Lausanne, and he hopes to go far in the tournament. As he said after his World Cup win in Ho Chi Minh and his finals in New York and Guri: "I feel so good, there is so much peace in my heart, I am confident that I can close off this year, the best year of my career, in good style."
Torsten Danielsson looked on his way to an upset against Marco Zanetti, when het ook a 24-22 lead after 15 innings, helped by a run of nine. The Swiss player then only scored three more in twelve innings, to lose 40-27 in 27. The Lausanne Billiard Master have completed the First day, and six more sessions will be played tomorrow, the semifinals and final scheduled for Sunday. The chance that Marco Zanetti wil win for a third consecutive time has shrunk somewhat, as he lost his evening match to Martin Horn (40-34 in 25).
First prize for the winner of these "Masters" is a tenth at best, of what Dong Koong Kang earned last week in Seoul (40.000 euro), but the players will try their hardest regardless. Dick Jaspers in his First Group match against Martin Horn (40-23 in 18, 2.222 average) was as motivated as he was in the Korean capital. The 50-year old Dutchman looked fresh on the first day of Lausanne, as if Lady Luck smiles on him as in his best years. "I may not win every tournament, but I am often close, I am one of the most consistent players and my averages are always amongst the best'', was his summary as he watched from the stands in the casino.
His accomplishments in a nutshell: a win in the World Cup in Luxor after a sensational final against HaengJik Kim (40 in 8 innings), a win in the Verhoeven Open in New York (final against Tayfun Tasdemir, 3.077 average), semifinals at the European championship, the World Cups of Porto, Guri and Istanbul, and last week the final of the Korean invitational. He has looked back on that loss quite some times since. "That goes without saying, I could have really made big money there. At halftime I was leading by ten points (24-14), so that's not too bad, right? I have honestly tried to not think about the money, but it is still a very difficult match to play. We are not used to playing for that kind of money. I was happy with my place in the final, but there is only one place that counts. If you win it, you are on a magic carpet for months. I just missed out, sorry to say."
What do you remember most, or best, from that finale?
Jaspers: "My lead at halftime, and how marvellously he (Kang) came back later in the match, as he had done against Blomdahl in the semi. I also think about that one point when I was 32-30 behind and the referee did not see a point I thought I had just made. I can't blame anyone for that one, because it was impossible to see. It was important moment though. Dani Sanchez later said: I stood high over the billiards, and I saw the point being made.
How do you look back on that tournament in a shopping mall, with people walking around, with noise, with unfamiliar conditions?
Jaspers: "I had a great time playing there, I could not say a bad thing about it. Maybe that is the direction the sport should take. I prefer playing in a noisy room to playing in an empty room. This was a great place to play: the financial centre of Seoul, a luxury shopping mall with many visitors. I think as much as 5000 people walking past every day. You could see all sorts of people coming down those escalators, old and Young, men and women. We brought billiards to the people there, how great is that?"
His first success in the Lausanne Masters tasts good. Jaspers was unable to impress in the first two editions: in 2013 he lost to Fredeic Caudron in the semi, last year he was eliminated in the group stage. This year's Jaspers looks stronger, more focused than even he normally is. He exudes confidence and realizes how important these weeks are for the ranking. Lausanne is followed by the WC in Bordeaux, and the World Cup in Hurghada will close the year. Jaspers is on 202 points and battles with Dani Sanchez (208 points), and Torbjorn Blomdahl (196) for the overall World Cup win, and he defends his top-3 spot in the ranking.
The matches for Saturday are: 10.00 uur: Zanetti-Tasdemir and Jaspers-Danielsson 12.15: Blomdahl-Choi and Merckx-Couto 14.30: Horn-Danielsson and Jaspers-Tasdemir 16.45: Bury-Couto and Merckx-Choi 19.00: Jaspers-Zanetti and Tasdemir-Horn 21.15: Blomdahl-Merckx and Choi-Bury.