MANILA, NOVEMBER 28, 2003  (STAR) By Joey Villar - Efren "Bata" Reyes escaped the upset ax wielded by the lesser-fancied bets in the $64,000 first Cafe Puro Philippine Open and Invitational 9-ball billiards championship as he outclassed Chinese Taipei’s Chun Chang Liu, 9-4, yesterday at the Octagon Hall of the Robinson’s Galleria.

The three-time world pool champion Earl "The Pearl" Strickland of the United States, Ralf Souquet of Germany, Marcus Chamat of Sweden, Hsia Hui Kai of Chinese Taipei and Japan’s Kunihiko Takahashi, who were among the 16 players seeded into the main draw, crashed out early with stunning first round losses to a talented bunch of Filipino cue masters.

First to go was the temperamental Strickland, whom Ramil Gallego dominated with a 9-1 rout, while Souquet was bundled out by unheralded Rene Cruz behind a 9-3 win.

Hsia, the Busan Asian Games eight-ball champion, fell to local bet Leonardo "Dodong" Andam, 9-5, while Takahashi bowed to Gandy Valle, 9-5, in the four-day event sponsored by Cafe Puro and Studio 23.

Chamat lost to Chinese Taipei’s Chia Ching Wu, 8-9, but the Taiwanese will have the fancied Reyes as opponent in the Last 16, another race-to-9 duel, scheduled at 11 a.m. today.

Reyes, fresh from his big win in the All-Japan Open over the weekend and spearhead of the RP squad competing in the next week’s SEA Games in Vietnam, taught Chun a neat lesson in pocketing to bolster his chances for the top purse worth $20,000 (P1.1 million).

While focus was on Reyes, it was Gallego who hogged the spotlight with his stirring win over Strickland.

Displaying the form that earned him a second place finish in the 2001 Tokyo Open, the 37-year-old Gallego raced to an early 5-0 lead and never gave Strickland a chance to fight back, winning four of the last five racks.

"Grabe ‘yung pressure kapag si Strickland talaga ang kalaban mo pero hindi ako na-apektuhan dahil nag-concentrate lang talaga ako ng mabuti sa laro ko ngayon," said the Bacolod City native, who duplicated his 9-5 win over the power-breaking

American two years ago in Japan.

The 42-year-old Cruz also made a big impact as he cashed in on Souquet’s faulty breaks to pull off the king-sized upset that assured him of a stint in the next round and a bigger paycheck.

"Nagulat ako na ganito ang nilaro ni Souquet, akalain mo ba namang wala siyang maipasok sa mga break niya, minalas talaga siya," said Cruz, who once teamed up with Reyes in winning the snookers’ doubles gold medal in the 1987 edition of the Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Joining Reyes and company in the Last 16 were American Corey Deuel, Korean Park Shin Young and Japanese Satoshi Kawabata.

Deuel downed Filipino qualifier Jun del Mazon, 9-6, and Park posted the same score against another RP bet and SEA Games mainstay Marlon Manalo while Satoshi smothered Jerome Pena, 9-1.

Park and Deuel clash in the next round while Satoshi takes on upset-conscious Gallego in today’s round-of-16 matches.

Cruz, for his part, faces Andam while Valle, who teamed up with Snooky Villanueva in the 9-ball doubles for the country’s only gold medal in the 1998 Bangkok Asiad, faces the winner of the Alex Pagulayan-Antonio Gabica showdown, being played at presstime.

Francisco "Django" Bustamante, the other favorite to rule this event, is also playing Florencio Banar at presstime, so waaasss American Rodney Morris against RP’s Antonio Lining, Korea’s Jeong Young Hwa versus RP’s Ronnie Alcano, Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann against US’ Max Eberle, and Chinese Taipei’s Yang Ching Sun versus countryman and 2000 World Pool titlist Fong Pang Chao.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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