Champion changes pool's image

09:17, November 27, 2009      

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Sixteen-year-old Liu Shasha lines up a shot at the Fuxiaofang billiard club yesterday in Beijing, where she trains for eight hours a day. Liu became the youngest ever winner of the World 9-ball Championships in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Sunday evening. Zhang Wei

Wearing a pink sweater, blue jeans and a pair of sneakers, the pony-tailed Liu Shasha looks like the typical girl next-door.

But when she gets a cue in her hand, she's a world apart.

On Sunday evening, the 16-year-old became the youngest ever winner of the World 9-ball Championships in Shenyang, Liaoning province. She is the second player from the Chinese mainland to have taken the pool title, following in the footsteps of Pan Xiaoting, who won in 2007.

Liu out-shot two-time world champion Liu Shin-Mei from Chinese Taipei, Pan and top seed Karen Corr, from Britain, on her way to victory.

Her road to the title began at age 12 when the Henan native was inspired by photographs of world-class pool, snooker and billiards players.

"The pictures of (Stephen) Hendry, Ding Junhui and sister Xiaoting (Pan Xiaoting) were hanging on the wall of the billiard room where I started. At that time, all I dared to dream was just having a photo with them," she told China Daily from the Fuxiaofang billiard club, where she trains for eight hours a day.

Liu, who grew up in a farmer's family, is now an icon herself among the next generation of pool players following her win on Sunday. Now, she joins the ranks of the sport's elite, along with Ding, China's internationally acclaimed snooker player, and Pan, a consistent world top-five in the Women's Professional Billiards Association.

When she arrived back in Beijing on Monday, she was welcomed at the club where she trains by a swarm of fans.

Among them was Zhu Tingting, an 18-year-old from Zhejiang province who started training under Zhang Shuchun, Liu's mentor, a year ago.

Zhu received no support from her family when she first became addicted to the sport during the summer vacation following her second year at junior high school.

"They thought it was not a sport played by good students and even more unbecoming for girls," Zhu said.

She was kept away from the sport until, like millions of other teenagers, her mother read news stories about Pan.

Dressed in an exquisite costume and displaying good manners and graceful conversation, Pan, the country's No 1 women's 9-ball player is now one of the most famous females in China's sports world.

"My mother started to understand it could be a career for girls - and a promising one. She learned that girls can become more cultured and charming by playing pool, instead of becoming more vulgar," Zhu said.

Now, her parents spend 220,000 yuan ($32,000) a year honing their daughter's talent for 9-ball and the success of Liu has further inspired the family to persevere.

China occupied three of the top four places at the Worlds last week (Pan finished third and Fu Xiaofang, who was coached by Zhang, was fourth). With the international success there has been a boom in interest domestically, said Zhang Xiaodong, director of the cue sport department under China's State Sport General Administration.

"Liu's success will surely drive more youths to the sport and will not escape the notice of millions of parents, just as happened with Ding Junhui and Pan Xiaoting," he told China Daily.

However, the healthy state of the sport today is a far cry from where it was a few years ago, said coach Zhang.

When he was 20, Zhang fell in love with pool in a small village 100 km from Harbin, Heilongjiang province. His family was strongly against his new interest. Even his girlfriend left him, saying he did "not have a proper profession".

Now he is the owner of a club with more than 30 tables located close to the iconic Bird's Nest stadium and he trains some of the best female pool players in the world.

Source:China Daily
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