What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about Vietnam? No, not that ugly three-letter word. The correct answer is, or should be: “optimism”.
The Washington Pew Research Center found that Vietnam is now the 12th (of 177) happiest country on earth. When it comes to people’s expectations for the future in terms of economics and opportunities for their children, the Vietnamese are in 1st place.
How amazing is that, given the country’s semi-recent history? The Pew report describes the Vietnamese as pragmatic, hardworking, friendly, polite, creative and having an off-beat sense of humor. Let me tell you: those guys at Pew nailed it.
It’s only been a little over a decade since the Koreans started showing up in big numbers. Now, there is this second wave of talented players with names that break your tongue. I’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a few of them in action in New York, and what a splendid addition to global 3-cushion they are.
One mistake we shouldn’t make, is to generalize and speak about “the Vietnamese”, as if there were group characteristics. It doesn’t work like that, they are – like the Korean players – very different in personality and quite individual in technique and even choice of shot. “The Koreans / Turks / Vietnamese play less defensive / more defensive…”, all statements of that nature are untrue and, frankly, naive. If it’s so easy for us to see how different Caudron, Leppens, Forthomme and Merckx are in every way, then why do we feel the need to comment about “the Koreans” or “the Vietnamese”?
The best thing to do probably, is see them as individuals sooner rather than later, and get familiarized with their names. Here are a few quick portraits, to give you an idea of who is who. Might come in handy, when the next World Cup starts. I’ll work my way up the world ranking of August 2017, and start with …
122. Ly The Vinh is quite possibly the oldest of the Vietnamese players, I can’t find a birth date but I think he’s well into his forties. Plays World Cups since 2007, and had one outstanding finish: fifth in Hurghada 2013. He also came in fifth in the Verhoeven Open of 2014, where he did the unthinkable: he beat Caudron twice! It was 30-18 in 10 in the group, then 40-34 in 20 (19) in the K.O stage. This guy can play.
94. Duc Anh Chien Nguyen. Keep your eye on this young man, he could go far. Since 2013, he has played in eight World Cup events, making it to the last 32 only twice; in Porto 2014 and Guri 2016. But the Verhoeven Open 2017 looks like a breakthrough for him: fifth place overall, a 1.602 general average and wins over Sung Won Choi, Jung Han Heo and Blomdahl. Very calm and composed for his age, and a killer smile when he has made the winning point.
38. Xuan Cuong Ma. Twenty-six World Cups played, thirteen times in the main tournament. That is proof enough that you are dangerous. In Suwon 2011, he stood on the podium, winning the bronze. There was another bronze medal at the Asian championship of 2015. Maybe not a future world champion, but on his day, he can beat great names.
34. Ngo Dinh Nai. He’s been around since 2008, and his best ever finish in a World Cup was his third place in Guri 2013. Remarkably, he has also won a silver medal in an Asian 1-cushion tournament! Ngo finished 13th at this year’s Verhoeven Open, and he is low-profile, but he does not make many mistakes.
24. Anh Vu Duong is, with Ly The Vinh, one of the elder statesmen, even if he is only 37 years old. He has been around since Hurghada 2004, and has made it to the last 16 on six occasions, he was in a quarterfinal four times. A technical player with a lot of common sense, unspectacular but effective.
22. Minh Cam Ma. The other Ma, we have two. Twenty World Cups, six main tournaments, his eighth place in Ho Chi Minh 2016 was his best. Finishing 13th at the World Championship (Bordeaux 2016) is nothing to be ashamed about. Ma has played many World Cups where he averaged well but lost, several times by that painful score of 39-40. There may be good things in his future.
14. Quyet Chien Tran. In just a handful of years, Tran has made a big impression on his fellow players. He was in the final of the LG-Cup last year, has eight top-8 finishes in World Cups already. Once he was third (Hurghada 2016) and once he was runner-up to Bury (Guri 2016). Tran may be both short and slim, his stroke is piercing and precise. Who remembers that 40-40 in 18 against Torbjörn in Greece (2013)? He was desperately unlucky not to win that one, but it did not stop him from becoming one of the world’s great, up-and-coming players.
13. Nguyen Quoc Nguyen. Fresh in our memory: his loss to Haeng-Jik in the final of Porto 2017. He was third in Ho Chi Minh 2016, third in Guri 2014 and has quickly become one of the most recognizable and entertaining players on the tour. His facial expressions and body language are so different from the poker-faced European players we were used to, that he is by all means a fresh wind. Is his clownery at the table an attempt to put off his opponent? Absolutely not. I’ll gladly vouch for him, he’s a 24-carat nice guy.
So that’s eight Vietnamese players who can do some damage. There are easily twenty more who can average over 1.200 today, and there’s no telling how strong they will be five years from now.
Cheer up! That is not worrying, that is good news for our sport.