Chris Melling defeated fellow all-time great Michael Hill in the grand final to claim the inaugural Vinny Champions League Pool title.
The Ultimate Pool Group’s first major televised event featured a plethora of the planet’s top English eightball players and it was therefore fitting that the title match should involve two of the sport’s most decorated exponents with eight world championships between them.
Having whittled down the 32-player field across 10 weeks of round-robin action, four cueists were left standing for Finals Night at the Players Pool and Snooker Lounge in Newcastle-under-Lyme, all aiming for the title, trophy and a £10,000 payday.
In a change of format for the competition’s climax – that involved knockout set play – the first semi-final pitched together familiar acquaintances Hill and Neil Raybone.
A cagey opening frame was taken by Raybone but Hill levelled and then took the lead with frame three. The reigning six-time world champion then bolstered his position with a break and clearance in the fourth, before clearing directly from Raybone’s in-off from the break to claim set one, 4-1.
In a blink of an eye, Hill immediately gained the upper hand in the second set with a golden break. He then pounced on a failed back double by Raybone in frame two to double his advantage before a clinical break and dish put him 3-0 up and on the brink of progression.
Desperately trying to make something happen, former world master Raybone went in-off his break in frame four and ‘The Machine’ predictably cleared up without reply to complete a 4-0 set whitewash inside nine-and-a-half minutes. Pre-tournament favourite Hill had won eight consecutive frames in what was nearly a flawless performance.
If Hill had set the bar high, Melling issued a statement of his own in the first set of his tie with youngster Aaron Davies.
‘The Magician’ raced into a 3-0 opening set lead that saw him construct two break dishes either side of a reverse clearance after Davies went in-off on his break in frame two.
A world championship finalist last year, Davies got on the board in the fourth after coming out of a snooker to pot the black he missed earlier in the frame, and then closed to within one at 3-2. However, he went straight in-off his break at the start of frame six and Melling cleared to chalk up the set, 4-2.
Davies was resilient, though, and in a set he had to win, he emerged a 3-2 winner as the set clock expired. Having initially led 2-0 before being pegged back, he clinched the crucial fifth frame with just over 90 seconds remaining.
With the scores tied at one set apiece, a 6-reds shootout was required to determine the victor. Going first, Davies registered a time of 31.95 seconds – missing a ball along the way. Unfortunately, against one of the world’s quickest and most accurate cueists this target was not enough as Melling mopped up in 25.65 to advance.
It was no surprise that such a distinguished pair of players conjured up an exhibition of world-class pool in the title match.
The match began with three consecutive break dishes – two from Melling, one from Hill – before Hill levelled at 2-2.
Melling potted off his break again in frame five but was left with a difficult table layout. In trying to develop the balls with his first shot he fluked a ball and went on to clear for his third break clearance in a row.
Attempting to force a set decider, Hill was on course to do so in frame six but an unforced positional error eventually led to Melling securing the frame and set, 4-2.
Hill’s breaks had been a bugbear for him throughout this entire tournament and it was a cause of frustration for him again at the start of set two when he potted balls but went in-off at the same time. Melling typically cleared up and then fizzed through another break dish in the next to go 2-0 up and in a commanding position.
There was break joy for Hill in the third when he broke and cleared although his opponent followed suit in the next to stand on the edge of glory at 3-1 up. Astonishingly, that was Melling’s fifth break dish in as many attempts.
At the point of no return, Hill dug deep, closing the deficit to one before levelling it when he was rewarded after a fine double in the sixth frame.
A point was not good enough for Hill, though, and with little over three-and-a-half minutes left, he had to win the frame in order to force a 6-reds shootout. He misjudged his break-off in frame seven, and although he potted a ball, the table was uninviting and he was obliged to attempt a safety.
Having not converted earlier in the set, Melling didn’t pass up this opportunity, winding the clock down but also clearing up for good measure to win the set 4-3 and the match 2-0 to become the tournament’s first champion.