World Pool Championship semi-finals preview and predictions: New name to be etched onto trophy

Photo: Taka Wu / Matchroom

by Ben Hudd • February 5, 2023

Four players remain in the reckoning to become world champion on Sunday evening in Kielce, Poland, with the 2023 World Pool Championship reaching its conclusion following an action-packed five days.

A new name is guaranteed to be engraved onto the prestigious slice of silverware and pocket the $60,000 top prize, with world number one Francisco Sanchez Ruiz aiming to continue his quest for a second successive blue-ribbon accolade against sixth seed Mario He.

Wu Kun-Lin, meanwhile, is the only remaining contender who has reached the semi-finals previously. He faces surprise package Mohammad Soufi in a semi-final between two players ranked outside the top 64 ahead of the tournament.

Wu Kun-Lin vs Mohammad Soufi

You would struggle to find anyone who selected both Wu Kun-Lin and Mohammad Soufi to reach the penultimate hurdle, although both have thoroughly deserved their places in the semi-finals and now are only two victories away from becoming an unexpected world champion.

Both have defeated members of the world’s top ten and title favourites, with Wu dismantling three-time semi-finalist Alexander Kazakis in the second round of single elimination before Soufi created history with a quarter-final victory over two-time champion Albin Ouschan.

World number 79 Soufi received his fair share of fortune in that aforementioned triumph over the world number four, with three outrageous flukes helping him advance, although the Syrian based in Germany has also been running racks throughout and really come into his own in Poland.

Wu, meanwhile, was in full flow during his impressive victories over both eighth seed Kazakis and Naoyuki Oi, limiting their time at the table, before remaining resilient from 8-6 behind against Max Lechner and ending Duong Quoc Hoang’s dream campaign in the quarter-finals.

Wu endured a narrow loss against second seed Francisco Sanchez Ruiz in his second match during the double elimination phase, while Soufi also needed to bounce back from defeat after going down in his opening match against Poland’s Mateusz Sniegocki.

Both are competing in their maiden semi-finals in the Matchroom arena, but Wu was a semi-finalist six years ago, beating Ouschan during that campaign in Qatar, and could therefore be able to deal with the occasion better than his inexperienced opponent.

Prediction: 11-6 Wu

Francisco Sanchez Ruiz vs Mario He

Francisco Sanchez Ruiz has maintained his sparkling form of yesteryear into the new season, and the world number one now has an opportunity to complete a blue-ribbon double following his US Open Pool Championship triumph in September.

Sanchez Ruiz has barely broken into a sweat throughout the tournament. He was tested by Thorsten Hohmann and Denis Grabe but a resounding victory over the dangerous Chang Jung-Lin in the quarter-finals further highlighted his credentials. At no point in the entire tournament has the Spaniard appeared in any kind of trouble.

Austria’s Mario He, meanwhile, has produced some captivating acts of escapology on his way to the final four, battling back from 9-6 behind against Niels Feijen with the assistance of a fluke after pulling through a high-quality deciding rack affair against Canada’s John Morra.

He was beaten in his opening match at the hands of Poland’s Sebastian Batkowski and needed to come through losers qualifying to reach the single elimination phase. That disappointing defeat may have proved the incentive he needed to his way to the semi-finals.

The European Open semi-finalist has been knocking on the door for quite some time nonetheless and he’s surely due an elusive major accolade. He’s a two-time World Cup of Pool champion alongside Albin Ouschan, but a win over Sanchez Ruiz would arguably be the biggest victory of his lengthy career in the sport.

Unfortunately for the Austrian, Sanchez Ruiz has had his number in their previous meetings. He defeated his Spanish counterpart twice on the Euro Tour six years ago, but has lost five consecutive matches since then, including an 11-7 defeat at the 2021 US Open.

Both players are competing in their maiden World Championship semi-finals in the nineball arena and it’s a contest between two of the world’s elite which may be decided by who handles the enormity of the occasion the best. Sanchez Ruiz has controlled everything that has come his way across the last year or so.

Prediction: 11-9 Sanchez Ruiz

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