World Pool Championship preview: Who will claim the crown jewel of nineball?

Photo: Taka Wu / Matchroom

by Ben Hudd • January 31, 2023

There will forever be an argument over which tournament players would rather add to their resumes between the US Open and the World Championship, although it’s the crown jewel of nineball pool that returns this week in Kielce, Poland.

Ten former champions, dozens of potential winners and an array of talented youngsters travel to Eastern Europe for the prestigious tournament, with 128 players competing for $375,000 in prize money and the right to call themselves the reigning world champion.

Shane van Boening hoisted the prestigious trophy and fulfilled his destiny ten months ago, capping off his exceptional career in the process. Him and Joshua Filler are the leading candidates for glory this year, although the chasing pack will be attempting to stop them.

Who are the favourites?

Joshua Filler was peerless at times on the nineball scene last season despite not landing neither the World Championship nor the US Open. He produced faultless performances more often than not, showcasing outstanding cue-ball control on his way to becoming UK Open and World Masters champion.

Something special from Albin Ouschan was needed to deny the German in the quarter-finals last time around, with the two-time champion eventually on the receiving end of a final defeat at the hands of Shane van Boening. Both Ouschan and Van Boening are amongst the strong title favourites once again in Poland.

Van Boening reached the European Open final and UK Open and Premier League semi-finals last term, opening this season by finishing second at the Derby City Classic. His breaking prowess is often unrivalled and allows him to gain a swift advantage over opponents, with the American beginning his title defence against Japan’s Masato Yoshioka.

Meanwhile, world number one Francisco Sanchez Ruiz scooped the most prestigious prize in nineball pool by winning the US Open in October. The Spaniard was recognised as one of the leading candidates at last year’s World Championship following his Derby City Classic triumph, although he has further underlined his credentials since his early exit on that occasion.

Recent Turning Stone Classic champion Jayson Shaw remains in search of a maiden success in the Matchroom arena, but has a tricky opener in Italy’s Francesco Candela. Having won the prestigious US Open before the nineball era, fifth seed Shaw has showed promising signs of late despite being unable to reach a single televised ranking quarter-final last year.

Photo: Taka Wu / Matchroom

Who are the outsiders primed for a run?

Eighth seed Alexander Kazakis has twice been a semi-finalist in the last five years and developed a pedigree in the nineball majors, while another former World Masters champion in David Alcaide can never be written off and was a UK Open semi-finalist last year.

Max Lechner overcame his bizarre quarter-final hoodoo at October’s US Open, enduring a narrow defeat to Sanchez Ruiz in a thrilling Atlantic City final. The Austrian reached the quarter-finals in both 2021 and 2022 and now could be ready to break that barrier and join the top table.

Mario He is widely recognised as somebody who continues to knock on the door when it comes to becoming a major champion. Another talented player from Austria, He scooped his sixth Euro Tour accolade in November and was a European Open semi-finalist, beating Joshua Filler during that tournament.

Skyler Woodward has come across as extremely dangerous so far this year, making the Turning Stone Classic final, while former champion Ko Pin-Yi and 2021 US Open runner-up Aloysius Yapp are also amongst the notable outsiders to reign supreme.

Oliver Szolnoki has reached back-to-back World Championship quarter-finals, defeating both Shane van Boening and Francisco Sanchez Ruiz two years ago. Despite the Hungarian prospect having been hindered by travel problems in recent months, he usually turns on the style for this tournament.

Albanian and Bosnian youngsters Eklent Kaci, the former world 10-ball champion, and Sanjin Pehlivanovic are two of the brightest young prospects in the sport. Despite neither of them having enjoyed much success in the nineball arena last year, it’s only a matter of time before something clicks for both.

Wiktor Zielinski and Mieszko Fortunski are the leading lights of Polish pool currently and are their country’s strongest hopes of a homegrown champion. Zielinski reached the International Open final last year despite not yet managing to show his brilliant best in the nineball arena, while Fortunski defeated Jayson Shaw and Sanchez Ruiz on his way to last year’s World Masters semi-finals.

What are the other main talking points?

Aside from the aforementioned Wiktor Zielinski and Mieszko Fortunski, Poland have a number of other capable individuals who could fly under the radar. Daniel Maciol was a UK Open quarter-finalist last year and a Puerto Rico Open 10-ball runner-up, whereas Karol Skowerski was the World Masters champion on home soil eleven years ago.

Wojciech Szewczyk may be the reigning world 10-ball champion but he has also pulled off some significant nineball results, notably beating Albin Ouschan at the US Open, while Poland’s world junior champions Dominik Jastrzab and Symon Kural will be hoping to show off their prodigious talents. Jastrzab faces fellow Pole Mariusz Skoneczny in his opener.

Meanwhile, Kuwait has become a nation who have experienced some exceptional achievements at the World Championship in recent years. Omar Al-Shaheen was only beaten by Albin Ouschan in the final two years ago, while Abdullah Al-Youssef defeated Aloysius Yapp and Max Lechner on his way to the semi-finals last year.

Six-time Mosconi Cup champion and two-time European 9-ball champion Nick van den Berg makes an anticipated yet unexpected return to the nineball arena, appearing in a Matchroom event for the first time since the 2017 Mosconi Cup.

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