Things weren’t looking so great for Wojciech Szewczyk Friday evening. In fact, they were looking downright bad.
Facing defending champion Eklent Kaci in the semifinals of the World 10-Ball Championships, the 31-year-old from Poland had just watched his opponent break-and-run to build a 9-7 lead in a race to 10.
Approximately five hours later, Szewczyk was in the arena at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, letting out a primal yell and raising his fists in the air as the new World 10-Ball champion. Szewczyk had been close in major events before – including a runner-up finish at this year’s European Championships in men’s10-Ball and placing in the top-10 at the 2019 World 10-Ball Championships – so his championship is hardly a surprise. But, making the title more impressive is the route the Pole took, wiping away deficits in the semifinals against Kaci and the championship against young upstart Christopher Tevez of Peru to earn his first major and the $60,000 that comes with it.
Using a powerful and smashing break, Tevez had been pounding people on his path through the final stage of the event, beating David Alcaide 10-5 in the rond-of-32 and Darren Appleton in the quarterfinals. So, when the Peruvian jumped out to an early 3-1 on Szewczyk and was in the process of clearing the table again, it appeared that the finals could be yet another quick match. Then Tevez left the 10-ball on the shelf of the corner pocket, quickly turning a possible 4-1 lead into a 3-2 score instead. Szewczyk took full advantage of the opening, using of a pair of unforced errors by his opponent to win four straight racks and build a 5-3 lead.
After Tevez tacked on two wins thanks to a victorious safety exchange and a missed shot by his opponent, Szewczyck regained the lead thanks to successful jump and combination shots. He had a chance to open up a two-rack lead but missed a 10 ball of his own, handing the table and an easy shot back to his opponent. The two players traded racks for the next four games until Szewczyck scratched on the break in the 17th rack with the score tied 8-8. With the balls clustered on the table a safety exchange ensued, and when Tevez attempted a jump shot after a safety he scratched. Rather than attempt a run out, the crafty European tied the cue ball up in safeties and forced his opponent to foul three time in the game, an automatic loss which put the Pole on the hill at 9-8.
When Tevez broke in the 18th rack he pocketed a ball but again didn’t have an open shot at the 1 ball. The Peruvian initiated a safety exchange on the 1 ball, then missed a kick shot on the object ball that left an opening. Szewczyck used a combination shot on the 2 ball to methodically run out the rack to clinch the win. Overcome with emotion, he stared at the ceiling with his arms raised in victory then sat in his chair with a look of joy as well as relief.
The start of the semifinals was delayed by a couple of hours as the quarterfinals turned into a logjam, with multiple matches taking close to three hours to complete. Two of the competitors who were tangled in such long battles were defending champion Kaci and Szewczyck, who had both gutted out hill-hill thrillers. Kaci came from behind to defeat last year’s runner-up Naoyuki Oi, clearing the table in the deciding 19th rack with a run-out that included a lengthy safety battle on the 1 ball, a near scratch after pocketing the two and a table length cut on the 4 ball. A couple of tables away, Szewczyck was straining through a duel of his own, coming from behind to defeat Edgie Geronimo 10-9.
So, it only made sense that Kaci and Szewczyck face each other in the semifinal mere minutes after their quarterfinal matches concluded.
The two again found themselves in a topsy-turvy struggle that saw momentum turning over as frequently as the cards in the Rio’s casino. The 27-year-old from Poland struck early, taking advantage of Kaci failing to pocket a ball on the break as well as missing a shot and fouling to build an early 4-1 advantage. The Albanian then used a break-and-run followed by a victorious safety exchange to pull within 4-3, only to fail to pocket a ball on the break in the eighth rack. Szewczyck cleared the table to push his lead to 5-3, then watched as his opponent took advantage of a dry break and a missed 7 ball in the 10th rack by the Pole to tie the score.
After Szewczyck used a break-and-run to win two of the next three racks to take a 7-6 lead, Kaci came alive. He used a jump shot on the 1 ball in the 14th rack to run out and tie the match, cleared the table in the next game after his opponent jumped the cue ball off of the table on the break, then tacked on a break-and-run to build a 9-7 advantage and climb to within a game of advancing to the finals.
Just when it appeared Kaci was on his way to defending his title, the wheels came off. After Szewczyck won the 17thgame on a safety exchange, the young man from Poland tied the score in the next rack when his opponent failed to pocket a ball on the break. With the match now tied 9-9, it was Szewczyck’s turn to break and not land a ball in a pocket. With the rack clustered together, Kaci pocketed the 1 ball and then played safe on the 2 ball. His opponent would eventually land the 2 ball and knock the 3 ball up table for another safety. The Albanian kicked at the ball and missed completely, handing ball-in-hand to Szewczyck, who broke up a tied up 5 and 8 balls for the win, collapsing to the floor after pocketing the game-winning 10 ball.
The next semifinal matched Tevez against reigning Mosconi Cup Most Valuable Player Jayson Shaw, who had breezed through the event the entire week and continued to make things look easy in the early stages of the final day. Shaw opened the day with a 10-5 defeat of Francisco Sanchez-Ruiz in the round of 16 and qualified for the semifinals with a 10-4 victory against reigning European 10-ball champion Sanjin Pehlivanoic.
This time, it would be the unknown underdog Tevez who seemed to be in cruise control. He built an early 3-1 lead until Shaw used a pair of missed shots by his opponent to tie the score. As the match progressed, Tevez powerful break consistently pocketed balls while his opponent struggled with his opening shot throughout, as Shaw broke dry five times in eight attempts. The Peruvian capitalized, winning four straight racks to build a commanding 7-3 advantage until Shaw took advantage of a dry break and a missed shot by his opponent to win three straight and close the gap to 7-6. Tevez, who had shown no fear throughout the five-day tournament, pocketed four balls on the break in the 14th rack and ran out to increase his lead to 8-6 and then cleared the table again when Shaw again failed to pocket a ball on the break. Standing at the table with a chance to close out the match, Tevez again pocketed a ball on the break and closed out the match with a victorious safety exchange on the 1 ball.
The Predator World 10-Ball Championship ran March 28-April 1 and also taking place is The Alfa Women’s Las Vegas Open, which runs March 30-April 2.
The events coincide with the CueSports International Expo, which brings thousands of amateur pool players for the BCA Pool League World Championships as well as the USA Pool League National Championships.
Find the Predator World 10-Ball Championship brackets with live scores on the Predator Pro Billiard Series website.