Greg Batten became the third player to go 100% through their Ultimate Pool Champions League Group Stage last night, clocking wins against Kris Hampson, Ian Ali and Jack Whelan to win Group 5 and qualify through to the Last 16.
The night began with recently minted Ultimate Pool Pro Cup champion Jack Whelan taking on Ian Ali. It was a match that was notable for its uncharacteristic mistakes – particularly from Whelan – as Ali held on to win the key moments and take the match 4-1.
Eventual group winner Batten started his night with a match up against one of the 2023 intake of new professionals in Kris Hampson. It was another match where both players took their time to get going, but it was Batten who rallied on the 15 second shot clock to get ahead and secure a 3-1 victory.
It ensured Hampson would stay in the arena for the returning Jack Whelan, with both players knowing defeat would make qualification impossible. After a poor start in match 1 by his elite standards, the Wonder started to settle; taking out a couple of quality finishes to lead heading into the final stages. But with time ebbing away, it was Hampson who had the final say. As he came to the table at 3-2 down to dramatically clear on the buzzer to snatch a draw.
In the battle of the winners, Ian Ali and Greg Batten contested control of the group. If either player was to win, it would eliminate both Whelan and Hampson, who’s only hope of staying in the night was a draw between Ali and Batten. It was the latter who once again built a lead, heading into the final 90 seconds of the match 3-1 up. A dry break from the Pacman offered a glimmer of hope for Ali, and the Londoner rattled off a lightning reverse clearance to take it to 3-2 with 55 seconds remaining and the break in hand.
Batten had been in similar scenarios before and could be forgiven for thinking history was about to repeat itself after Dom Cooney’s miracle clearance in similar circumstances in the Grand Slam a year ago. However, he was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief after Ali’s break was dry and Batten was able to secure victory 3-2.
Ian Ali stayed in contention in the final round of fixtures with a 4-1 win over Kris Hampson, a match where Ali also nailed a contender for shot of the tournament were it not for Chris Melling’s heroics in Group 1.
In the final match of the evening, Greg Batten needed just a point to qualify through against Jack Whelan. It was always likely to be a tough match in whatever circumstance and the rubber nature of the contest for the Wonder didn’t change Whelan’s performance, as he fired off back-to-back finishes from the break to tie things up at 2-2 after Batten made the perfect start. Whelan had an opportunity to head 3-2 in front with 4 minutes to play but ran aground pinching the pocket on a simple yellow to allow Batten to hoover up frame 5. A scrappy final frame allowed the Pacman to see it through in the final moments.
He said to Steven Jamieson and Simon Webb in the Ultimate Pool studio: “I’m so pleased [to get through]. Had the last year and certain results gone a different way, I may have handled it better in that last match. It started well, 2-0 and comfortable and I should have known Jack, the quality player that he is, would come storming back. Overall, I’m delighted and played pretty well through the night so really pleased.”
Greg will return to Champions League action in May in the second stage, while next week’s Group 6 certainly should be exciting, as former Ultimate Pool champions Declan Brennan and Dom Cooney are joined by Brian Halcrow and former World Champion Jon McAllister.