Immonen Wins International Challenge of Champions
“This is the toughest tournament in the world,” said an elated Mika Immonen moments after capturing the 2009 International Challenge of Champions title. The pressure-packed, $25,000 winner-takes-all event was held at Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Uncasville, CT, October 27. Immonen, originally from Finland, defeated Darren Appleton of England in the final match and was crowned the new “Champion of Champions.” The two semifinals and the championship match were taped by ESPN for telecast beginning December 20.
“We may look cool out there, but the pressure is just incredible,” said Immonen. “There’s no margin for error when every player is a champion. One shot missed and you can lose twenty-five thousand dollars. Your nerves are off the chart during the entire tournament.” His comment was all the more revealing because he was fresh off having won the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships two years in a row.
Indeed, of the four international champions in the event, Immonen had to fight his way to the title. The semifinal and final matches require the winner to win two sets, race to 5 games each set. In the event of a tie, the pressure becomes intense with a one-game sudden death shootout.
Immonen played Jian-Bo Fu of China, the 2008 Champion of Champions, in a semifinal match, which he won 5-1 and 5-2. Appleton, the 2008 World 10-Ball champion, defeated Niels Feijen, the 2007 Champion of Champions, in the other semifinal match. After battling back and forth, Appleton emerged the winner 5-4 and 5-3.Immonen’s final match against Appleton was a nail-biter, featuring flawless run-outs and exquisite safety play. Immonen easily won the first set 5-2. He then took first two games of set two, but Appleton quickly rallied to a 5-3 comeback to take the set. The split sets led to a one-rack sudden death tie-breaker for the title and the winner-takes-all purse of $25,000. Known for his pinpoint accuracy, Immonen won the lag and closed out the championship match by clearing the table in shoot-the-lights-out style.
The crowd gave Immonen a standing ovation when he won the final match. He raised his arms in victory and then accepted the highest single purse in international winner-takes-all tournaments. The trophy and the check were presented by Mohegan Sun and Fusion Billiard Tables. The presentation brought another round of cheers from the audience.
The 2009 event was the Nineteenth Annual International Challenge of Champions and the thirteenth to be held at Mohegan Sun. Bob Yalen, Director of Sports & Entertainment for Mohegan Sun, was delighted with the support displayed by the crowd of pool fans. “We will continue to host this event,” he said. “The crowds were even more than we anticipated, and the players were amazing. We are extremely pleased.”
In addition to the fine tournament site at Mohegan Sun, the event was sponsored by Fusion Billiard Tables, Aramith Tournament Billiard Balls, Simonis Cloth, Mueller Recreational Products, Executive Billiards, and Silver Cup Chalk. The WPA-sanctioned event was produced by Matt Braun and Bettiane Braun of Billiards International, Ltd.