By Ted Lerner
(Shenyang, China)–Glitz, glamour and plenty of guts.
That would be an apt description for the scene tonight in the atrium of the Richgate Shopping Center in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, as 64 of the best women pool players gathered to open the 2012 WPA Women’s World 9-ball Championship.
This is the 4th year running that the biggest prize in women’s pool will be contested in this former imperial city turned manufacturing and industrial hub. And if the past few years are anything to go by, fans can expect the Chinese women to dominate the proceedings yet again.
It’s been a home side winner three years running in Shenyang. In 2009 16 year old Liu Shasha came out of nowhere to win the world title. The next year Fu Xiaofang fulfilled her promise of greatness by winning the title. Then last year, tiny and boyish looking unknown Bi Zhu Qing shocked everyone by storming through the field, taking down Fu in the semis, and then 17 year old prodigy Chen Siming in the finals to take an unlikely world title.
The proceedings last year sent an ominous signal to any player not from China. 14 of the last 16 players were Chinese. In the quarterfinals China made it 7 out of 8. The semi-finals became an all-China affair.
The women’s game in China is massively popular and its biggest names, like the legend Pan Xiaoting, Fu Xiaofang, and Chen Siming offer up a potent cocktail which the Chinese public can’t get enough of; big time success and plenty of demur glamour. They have become legitimate sporting stars, known around this massive nation, hounded for pictures and autographs wherever they go. With government backed programs churning out heaps of still unknown talents by the train load, new pool stars are literally waiting around every corner.
Korean great Ga Young Kim is a huge star in ChinaIt is in this atmosphere that the other big names in the women’s game will have to contend. Hall of Famer Allison Fisher, World Ten Ball Champion Kelly Fisher, and two time US Open Champion Ga Young Kim are all big time stars in their own right in China. But the home team seems to carry a massive advantage on Chinese soil. The numbers certainly speak for themselves. Over half the field of 64 players entered in this year’s championship is from China.
This year’s championship gets underway Monday morning at 10am local time in Shenyang(GMT +8). The players have been divided into 8 groups of 8 players. They will play a double elimination format in the group stage, race to seven, alternate break. The top four players from each group will progress to the final 32, where the format will become single elimination knockout, race to 9, alternate break. The final will be a race to 11.
The winner will receive $40,000 while the runner up will receive $20,000. The total prize fund is $300,000.
The opening ceremony inside the Richgate Shopping Center was a picture perfect example of the nature of women’s pool in China; part glitzy fashion show, part entertainment spectacle, and all of it covered by a wall of media and live on television.
With elegant pop music blaring throughout the arena, the players came down into the arena on the mall’s escalator one at a time, waving to a throng of local media which furiously shot photos. As the players came into the arena they walked over to the pool table in the middle of the room and posed for the cameras like it was an international movie award festival.
Later a group of sexy and scantily clad dancers performed a number, as tall leggy models handed out red wine. Organizers presented the games biggest names with miniature dolls in their own likeness while fans clamored around taking photos and having their t-shirts signed.
Yes women’s pool is big in China. And it’s fashionable too.
The WPA will be providing full coverage of all the action from the 2012 Women’s World 9-ball Championship in Shenyang on our website, www.wpapool.com. There you can get all the latest updates with live scoring of all matches, articles offering insights and analysis, updated brackets and photos. Fans around the world can also follow the tournament via the WPA Twitter feed, @poolwpa.