Zielinski goes unbeaten to defend Las Vegas Open title

Photo: Predator Pro Billiard Series

by Arabdho Majumder • February 27, 2023

The celebration started early. Wiktor Zieliński raised his right fist, pumping it, and looked to the ceiling briefly as he walked around the table one final time. A routine 10-ball awaited him to complete a comprehensive defense of his Las Vegas Open title. He thumped it in with the long, flowing stroke which has become his staple.

The Polish phenom dropped just three sets en route to his second-straight Las Vegas Open triumph at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. He downed Sanjin Pehlivanović, 2-0 (4-3, 4-1), in the final on Sunday evening with a performance that improved as the match progressed. It’s the fifth accolade of his budding career and solidifies his status as one of the best all-around pool players in the world at the moment.

While other favorites for the event fell to upsets on the opening days of the event, Zieliński cruised with only a minor hiccup against Alvin Anggito. He faced multiple stiff tests in the single-elimination portion of the tournament. He took down Gerson Martinez and fellow Pole Mieszko Fortuński without dropping a set in the last 64 and last 32.

David Alcaide pushed the 22-year-old Pole on Saturday afternoon in the Last 16. But Zieliński comfortably took the third set in that match, 4-1. Chang Jung-Lin, who beat Joshua Filler, Shane van Boening and Albin Ouschan earlier in the tournament, couldn’t provide a similar fight in the quarter-finals. Zieliński dropped him out of the event in two sets.

Zieliński faced a surprise, Duong Quoc Hoang, in the semi-finals to start Sunday. The Vietnamese player upset Ko Pin-Yi and SVB in the previous two knockout rounds to be among the final four in the event. He proved a formidable opponent, but Zieliński came out ahead after a nervy shoot-out when the final set went to 3-3.

Pehlivanović placed Zieliński in yet another hill-hill situation in the first set of the final. The Bosnian broke dry, though, and Zieliński won the ensuing safety battle and ran out the tricky rack to claim first blood. Pehlivanović couldn’t counter in the second set. The Pole struck ruthlessly on Pehlivanović’s unforced errors to close out the final in comfortable fashion. 

Zieliński’s triumph in Las Vegas builds on his Last 16 appearance at the 2023 World Pool Championship earlier in February. He’s showing strong form heading into the World 10-Ball Championship, which begins on Tuesday. It’s an event he struggled at a year ago, failing to reach the single-elimination section. He fell to Robbie Capito and Nils Johanning, neither of whom have a Fargo rating over 800 like he does.

For Zieliński’s 21-year-old opponent in the final, Pehlivanović, it was yet another break-out performance and first Predator Pro Billiard Series final. The Bosnian reached the quarter-finals of the 2022 World 10-Ball Championship and is the reigning European 10-ball champion.

Wins over Alexander Kazakis, Wu Kun-Lin and Daniel Maciol highlighted Pehlivanović’s tumultuous road to the final. He fell to young American talent Lukas Fracasso-Verner in the opening round, which led to a longer route just to get to the single-elimination portion of the event. He dropped just two sets total after the defeat, though, until Zieliński downed him in the final.

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