Minutes after his match had ended, Alex Kazakis’s couldn’t stop his hands from shaking.
The young man from Greece at first thought he may have given away his match with James Aranas. Then he braced for a sudden death shootout after an unforced error gave him new life.
Then he stood at the table and nervously pocketed the remaining three balls after another error handed him the match.
Kazakis mixed some clutch shot making with good fortune as he defeated Aranas 13-11 to earn one of the two remaining spots in the semifinals of the Rasson 10-Ball Masters Championship at Steinway Billiards in Astoria. Kazakis overcame a slow start with ball pocketing and a few defensive victories in front of local crowd that was clearly on his side.
“I missed some tough shots early in the beginning, but at least today I played good,” Kazakis said. “Again, I was lucky that I won – like yesterday,”
It was the second near-elimination experience in two days for Kazakis. Friday night an unforced error from Lee Vann Corteza allowed him to get on the hill and ultimately win the match in a sudden death shootout.
Aranas took advantage of a trio of early missed shots by Kazakis to jump out an early 6-3 lead. The young Greek rallied after Aranas broke dry in the ninth game, winning five of the next six games to take an 8-7 lead. Aranas then returned the favor, taking advantage of a dry break by his opponent by clearing the table and winning the next three to edge ahead, 10-8. Kazakis then won the next two games to tie the match 10 games apiece.
Aranas won the 21st game to take an 11-10 lead in the race-to-13 set. The Filipino looked poised to climb onto the hill first after Kazakis misplayed a safety attempt on the 8-ball. Frustrated, he walked back to his seat and buried his face in his hand. He would be given a reprieve moments later when Aranas misplayed position on the 9-ball and then missed the ball in the corner pocket. Kazakis walked up to the table and executed two sharp cut shots to tie the match again.
“I was just thinking stay down, shoot straight and believe you’re going to make them,” he said. “Those two shots really gave me big life.”
Kazakis gutted out the 23nd game to take a 12-11 lead but appeared headed to a shootout after losing a safety battle to Aranas. While Kazakis sat in his chair mentally preparing for extra frames, Aranas missed a makeable shot on the 8-ball – handing the table and the match back to his opponent.
“When he missed the 8-ball it surprised me and he gave me more pressure because you know you have to clear the table,” Kazakis said.
Kazakis will face Dennis Orcullo in the semifinals, who held off a late rally by Germany’s Ralf Souquet to win 13-9 in a match that lasted over three hours.
“In the beginning I really was struggling with my break. I didn’t make a ball and scratched twice, but I figured it out in the middle of the match,” Orcullo said. “What I did was focus and keep going to finish every single game.”
The two essentially played even for the first 10 games until Orcullo took advantage of a couple of missed shots and victorious safety battles to win four consecutive games to surge ahead, 11-6. Souquet would not go quietly into the night, taking advantage of a one of Orcullo’s scratches on the break and a victorious safety battle to rattle off three straight games to cut the deficit to 11-9. Souquet looked poised to climb to within one game but left the 2-ball in the corner pocket’s jaws on a jump shot.
‘I played two bad matches in the whole tournament and both times it was against Dennis,” Souquet said after the match. ”For some reason I never play my A-game when I play against him. It’s really frustrating in a way.”
The most difficult player of the day was the table, with tight pockets and newer cloth causing all eight players to struggling with potting balls off the break and many players leaving object balls hanging in the jaws.
“This table is really difficult. You can’t attack all of the time. You have to play clever,” Kazakis said. “It really makes you feel like you’re playing chess
Sunday’s semifinals begin at 11 a.m. local time with Joshua Filler taking on Corteza, with Kazakis taking on Orcullo at 2 p.m.
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