Closing in on 100.000 views, this is the most watched match in the Kozoom video library: the semifinal of the European Championship of 2013 in Brandenburg, Germany. Zanetti and Caudron knew it was almost a final, because one of them would face the winner of Rudolph – Hofman. Excellent players of course, but the odds would be heavily in favor of either the Italian or the Belgian.
It all starts so innocently. A single point for Marco from the spots, two for Fred. Two for Marco, one for Fred. Two for Marco, zero for Fred. At 5-3 after three innings, nobody in the crowd has any idea that they are about to see history rewritten. Then the Italian pulls away with runs of seven and three, extending his lead to 15-3. And in the sixth inning, something amazing happens. Fred is at the table and he simply refuses to miss. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty. Yes, the eighth point was a bit lucky, but it would have made without that miniscule kiss anyway. He has forty seconds for a shot, but his average thinking time is well under twenty seconds. Every point looks like a natural. This is how ridiculously well Caudron can play at times, and everyone who has ever witnessed it up close is a lucky man.
The run goes to 24, and something changes. Fred visibly realizes he could break the world record of 28, at that time held by three players: Komori, Ceulemans and Forthomme. He slows down on two short-angle shots that are tricky, makes those. Then a straightforward three-rail bank shot, tentatively hit but made. The 28th, to tie the record, is another delicate one: a thin hit off a ball close to the rail, with lots of english. There is no rhythm anymore, the tension is in the air, this is point by point, a walk on a tightrope.
Fred could not have hit the 28th any better: he now has an open position for 29, long-short-long and there is no complication to the shot. He can make these with a broomstick, in his sleep, a hand tied behind his back. And he misses. In an interview later, he was dead honest about it: “I felt the pressure. For fifteen minutes, I was just playing billiards, feeling good. Then all of a sudden the cue started to weigh ten pounds.”
As if a share of the world record high run is not enough, the match has a second chapter, just as amazing as the first. Marco makes runs of one, two and three, nibbling away at his deficit. It’s 21-34 when the Italian really hits back: a run of 13. Of course, there was an incident; how could there not be an incident? After all, it’s Marco. Early in the run, the clock malfunctions. The referee tells Zanetti they will play on without a clock. He even jokes about it out loud: “So I can use five minutes now?” Then at his eighth point, the time signal goes off. Marco protests, who would not have? The score keeper says: “I told you the clock was working again. “No, you did not”, says Zanetti.
I’ve watched the tape several times, and at no point did I see or hear ANYTHING that would indicate Zanetti knew the clock was back on. The Italian’s emotion is, I think, quite understandable. Believe it or not, it’s Caudron who solves the “yes I did / no you didn’t” stalemate. He gestures to the ref that he also had no idea the clock was back on, and it is therefore correct for Marco to play on. What a formidable thing to do! Every overpaid, lying, cheating soccer player in the world should watch some 3-cushion and see how it’s done in OUR sport, at the very highest level.
After Zanetti’s thirteen, it’s 34-34. Caudron makes two, Zanetti one, Caudron one. The Belgian, no doubt emotionally exhausted after his historic run, plays a poor shot, failing to choose between the three-rail and the five-rail line. What happens to us on a daily basis happens to him now: he’s in-between. Zanetti runs a tense five to win the match, because there is no equalizing inning.
This was a semifinal of exceptional quality, but that is not what makes it so historic. Several times, higher individual or combined averages have been recorded. You have to look at the big picture to see why this was one of the greatest matches ever.
- It was virtually the deciding match in a major championship.
- The loser played a higher average than the winner!
- A world record was equaled.
But even these three are extras. My main reason for calling this match so groundbreaking is this: 3-cushion was now a sport where you could run 28 in a match to 40, and NOT BE SAFE. Three-cushion was now a sport where two mistakes could cost you a European title. Ceulemans will be the first to admit that in his day, you could make twelve or fifteen mistakes in a match to 50, and still win. Blomdahl won many World Cups because he could average 2.000 and his opponents had a 1.500 ceiling. We, the fans, often knew who was going to win. Those days ended in Brandenburg 2013. No 3-cushion player in a major final would ever be safe again until the last point was made, no matter how big his lead. THAT is the significance of this match.
In the minutes after, there is no joy on Zanetti’s face. In fact, he looks close to tears. Was he so emotional because he made 40 in 12? Absolutely not. He did that before, and better. Making the points at the table was not even half of his achievement. He had to sit on his chair, watching the most talented player on the planet make a world record run of 28, and still, in his own mind, believe he could win the match. None of us know how hard that was, because none of us have ever done it.