Japan is no stranger to hosting and embracing major sporting events – the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the next Summer Olympic Games. Could snooker also become big in Japan?
The island nation already has a proud cuesports heritage with former world champions in three-cushion billiards and 9-ball pool. Smaller table disciplines are widely played in Japan and it appears that snooker is starting to have an impact too with tables now featuring in pool clubs in capital city Tokyo.
Yutaka Fukuda has been instrumental towards the prosperity of snooker in the country. In 2000, Fukuda was part of a team that formed the Japan Snooker Association (JSA), an organisation that is still going strong today and holds national events. A TV commentator for professional snooker coverage in the past, Fukuda competed as a player when the sport was part of the 2001 World Games programme in Akita.
“Our president Mr. Maeda, the Nippon Billiards Association (NBA) and my great friend Jason Ferguson all did very well for snooker at those World Games” said Fukuda. “As these are closely connected to the Olympic Games, I believe the Japanese government would strongly support hosting another major snooker event in the future.”
Fukuda is well positioned to assess the growth of snooker in his homeland as he has been a qualified coach for many years and is currently working with pool players, including the high profile Naoyuki Oi. “In 2002 the Thai Snooker Association invited me to take a World Snooker coaching course that was led by Mr. Steve Prest. I was delighted and took no time in deciding to accept the offer. I used to live in Bangkok before, and I am grateful towards the Thai association – I owe them a lot. Japan and Thailand share a snooker friendship.”
Japan’s most promising snooker prospect is Keishin Kamihashi, who last year compiled his maiden 147 maximum break. The teenager has already played in several major international amateur events such as Q-School, the Challenge Tour and the recent World Snooker Federation Open in Malta where he successfully qualified for the knockout phase. With hopes of breaking through onto the professional circuit, youngster Kamihashi has become a frequent resident at the Q-House Snooker Academy in Darlington, England where he practices with main tour players based there.
Another positive sign is the increasing interest amongst women players. Tani Mina and Muramatu Sakura featured at last year’s memorable World Women’s Snooker Championship in Thailand where they participated individually and came together as a team to represent Japan and register a match victory in the preceding World Cup. Fukuda, who also works with women cueists, said “Since last year’s World Championship, parents are starting to think about their kids becoming a snooker player. I told them about how great the tournament was and that there is more to come in the future.”
With a plethora of Asian talents making their way up snooker’s world rankings – and seemingly with more to come – it may just be a matter of time before Japan joins the snooker party and Fukuda is excited about the future. “I met Jason Ferguson in China just before the World Women’s Snooker Championship and told him my short and long-term hopes of making snooker popular in Japan – he has the same ambition and I was really delighted.”
Welcome back to our monthly international round-up feature that reports on the latest tournament news from across the globe, including nations who are a part of the World Snooker Federation structure. This month we cover events from three different continents.
In case you missed it, you can read our April edition edition HERE.
Isle of Man (Isle of Man Billiards and Snooker Association)
John Kennish produced an astonishing comeback in the final to win the 2019 Isle of Man Snooker Championship.
A tournament that ran throughout the domestic season, Kennish serenely qualified top of his group before eliminating Nick Stephens (4-0), Paul Smyth (4-1) and then Tom Miller (4-1) in the knockouts to reach yet another island final. In a repeat of the 2018 title decider, Kennish faced the 2015 European Under-21 champion and former professional Darryl Hill.
Defending champion Hill was coasting towards retaining the title as he went 4-0 up in the best-of-nine frames clash. However, after the interval, Kennish stunned his young opponent by stringing together five straight frames to take the trophy for the fourth time.
Slovakia (Slovak Billiard Association)
Qualifier Jakub Koniar won the Slovakian National Snooker Championship for a second time.
Held across three days at the Elite Snooker Club in the capital city of Bratislava, 32 players made up the final stages of the competition. Due to his national ranking before the event, Koniar was unseeded and therefore had to play a qualifying match to reach the main draw.
After duly navigating that hurdle, the 26-year-old eliminated back-to-back defending champion Balazs Koles, 4-0, in the first round with a brace of half-centuries. Koniar subsequently dispatched Danijel Vranjes (4-2), Marian Kepsta (4-0), Martin Kollar (4-1) and then Kevin Cizmarovic (4-1) in the final to win the title five years on from when he first did so.
Belarus (Belarusian Association of Billiard Sports)
Held at the Classic Club in Minsk, Aleksandr Kostkovec claimed a record sixth Belarus Championship.
The annual showcase featured a double elimination format with eight players eventually making it through to the knockouts. Kostkovec qualified for those quarter-finals from the winners’ section, getting the better of reigning champion Vladislav Romanovski in a deciding frame along the way. Romanovski’s defence later ended in the last eight when he lost to Sergey Vasiliev.
Kostkovec then enjoyed 3-0 victories over Alexey Shirokov and Vasiliev in the quarter and semi-finals respectively before pipping Yevgeniy Saltovski, 3-2, in the final, to re-capture the crown he last won in 2016.
Earlier in the season Yana Shut won her third national women’s snooker title when she defeated Albina Leaschuk in the final.
Latvia (Latvian Republic Billiards Federation)
Youth overcame experience in the final of the 2019 Latvian National Championship as 18-year-old Arturs Kengis tasted his maiden success in the event.
In what was the 24th edition of the competition, a total of 43 hopefuls entered. Due to his position inside the top eight of the national rankings, Kengis was seeded through to the last 16. In the semi-finals he ended the hopes of Latvia’s number one ranked player and a previous owner of this title, Maris Volajs, 4-2.
The final paired Kengis against another former champion, Sergej Sergejev. The teenager – a winner of the National 6-Red title in 2018 – controlled proceedings throughout as he enjoyed a comfortable 7-1 triumph.
Finland (Finnish Billiard Federation)
Amid a festival of different cuesports disciplines and categories at the Finnish Billiard Federation’s recent ‘Finals Weekend’, the destiny of the national snooker championship for 2019 was discovered with Jani Kananen being the last player standing.
The snooker event began in the opening weekend of May when 78 players were whittled down to just four; all of whom qualified for the showpiece event at the Culture House in Helsinki.
Kananen dropped just two frames in his opening three matches before stopping 2017 winner Patrik Tiihonen, 4-2, in the quarter-finals. Having made his way to the capital city later in the month, Kananen saw off Jyri Virtanen, 4-1, in the semi-finals and then Antti Tolvanen – last year’s runner-up to Robin Hull – 4-2, in the final to secure the title for the first time.
Australia (Australian Billiards and Snooker Council)
Peter McCullagh defeated Joe Minici to win the 2019 Australian National Masters Championship for players aged 40 and over.
Regular host the Mingara Recreation Club in Tumbi Umbi staged the four-day annual event that featured 49 players from five different states. Western Australia’s McCullagh, who played on the professional circuit for ten consecutive seasons between 1991-2001, qualified top of his round robin group after winning all three of his fixtures without dropping a frame.
As one of the top seeds McCullagh advanced straight into the last 16 knockouts where he whitewashed Andrew Siddons, 4-0, before eliminating Steve Ebejer, 4-2, in the quarter-finals. His toughest assignment came in the semi-finals when he met former winner, Glen Wilkinson. In going 3-2 up and on the brink of victory Wilkinson crafted the tournament’s highest break of 119, however, McCullagh managed to win the last two frames and advance to the final.
New South Wales’ Minici was featuring in the final for the fourth time in five years but looking to lift the trophy for the first time since 2012. The opening four frames were split but McCullagh finished stronger with breaks 47 and 56 to record a 5-2 victory and regain the title he last won two years ago.
A few weeks earlier during April at the Brunswick Club in Melbourne, Matt Curwood defended the Australian Under-21 Snooker Championship when he defeated Josh Burns 5-0 in the final. Teah Raeburn ousted Lilly Meldrum 3-2 to win the Australian Under-21 Women’s Championship while in the three-ball discipline Marc Fridman denied Burns to win the National Under-21 Billiards Championship.
Japan (Japan Snooker Association)
The 18th Japan National Snooker Championship recently took place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo and was won by Hiroshi Matsumura for the first time.
After advancing through the earlier rounds 48-year-old Matsumura defeated Julian Serradilla in the last four and then Keiichi Sudo in the final. Takao Kurimoto was the other losing semi-finalist.
A former professional pool player, Kyoto based native Matsumura started playing on the bigger sized baize a decade ago and is now a coach to youngsters at his local club. Two years ago, he reached the final but lost to Keishin Kamihashi, who went on to defend the title in 2018. Kamihashi has been an entrant at the recent Q-School in Wigan.