Vietnam heckles Turkey's billiards ace, without lost respect

By Xuan Binh   May 28, 2024 | 05:57 am PT
Vietnam heckles Turkey's billiards ace, without lost respect
Tolgahan Kiraz holds a cup for the second runner-up as he takes a selfie with Vietnamese spectators after the Three-Cushion World Cup in HCMC on May 26, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong
World billiards' number 14, Turkey’s Tolgahan Kiraz, struggled with heckling from Vietnam’s hometown crowd at the Three-Cushion World Cup, but without any blame he also conceded respect for their passion.

The semifinal match between Kiraz and local favorite hometown hero and world's number 415, Tran Duc Minh – who was enjoying his home-field advantage in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday – was dramatic. It lasted a tense two hours and 15 minutes.

Hundreds of spectators at Nguyen Du Gymnasium in Ho Chi Minh City cheered for Minh. But the venue was virtually devoid of Kiraz supporters.

With the home advantage, Minh defeated Kiraz 50-42 after 49 rounds.

He then went on to beat world's number 4, Kim Jun-tae, 50-46 in the final to win his first world title.

Still, despite the heartbreaking defeat, Kiraz could not help but sing Vietnam’s praises.

He told VnExpress that "the country and the Vietnamese fans will always hold a special place in my heart," compared to many other countries he had competed in.

"There was an issue in the semifinals that got me thinking," Kiraz said. "The arena was silent when it was my opponent's turn. And when it was my turn, there were boos and loud sounds in the gymnasium, which bothered me a lot. Most of all, when I didn't score, the spectators applauded."

With each point scored, Minh received applause and cheers from the stands at Nguyen Du stadium.

They did the same every time Kiraz missed a shot. They also whistled at him each time the Turkish player tried to focus on setting up his shots.

The same also happened during the final between Minh and Kim.

"Maybe only a few spectators did that," Kiraz admitted. "Blaming the entire audience is not right."

The veteran ace and top global player pointed out that the heckling was no excuse for his loss. Given his years of experiences exhibiting grace under pressure during his career’s tensest moments playing the nerve-wracking came, he said the crowd’s aversion should not have bothered him.

"I should also be able to compete under all circumstances and pressure. I think I'm quite good at this point, but I still have to learn more."

Kiraz also mentioned the 2023 World Championship final, when Bao Phuong Vinh defeated Tran Quyet Chien 50-34 to win the title at his first World Championship appearance. At that time, the audience in Ankara, Turkey, also applauded and congratulated Phuong Vinh.

"Phuong Vinh was treated like a home player in Ankara," Kiraz said. "I have never seen the audience anywhere behave like this past semifinal [in Vietnam]," he seemed to lament momentarily.

"But everything will eventually change. I’m still happy and still love Vietnam very much," the star concluded.

Kiraz has competed at the World Cup semifinals twice, but has never reached the final.

After the tournament in HCMC concluded, with no hard feelings, Kiraz stayed at the venue to take photos with the Vietnamese fans.

He emphasized that he "can’t wait to return here [Vietnam]" for the World Championship in September.

He and the world’s top players will now attend the next World Cup in his Turkish home of Ankara June 9 to 15.

Of the seven World Cup tournaments each year, Ho Chi Minh City always records the largest number of spectators. Its combined totals have consistently climbed many times higher than major locations in Las Vegas, Porto or Seoul.

After this year’s final, World Billiards Union (UMB) president Farouk El Barki said that Vietnam "has the best billiards audience in the world."

Barki posited that 2024 could be the "most important year" for Vietnam billiards.

The World Championship will be held for the first time in the south-central coastal province of Binh Thuan Sept. 25 to 29.

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