Among the many intriguing possibilities that did not emerge from last weekend’s (April 13-16) Super Billiards Expo’s two Pro events (Open & Seniors) was the potential for Mika “The Iceman” Immonen to have played in both of them. He wouldn’t have been alone; Frankie Hernandez and Jimmy Rivera played in both events and both advanced to the semifinals. The reason that Immonen didn’t sign on to the Open event was not for lack of interest, but circulating misinformation about whether or not it was allowed.
“Someone told me you couldn’t, that they weren’t allowing it,” said Immonen, moments after capturing the inaugural Seniors Pro Player Championship title on Sunday afternoon. “And then, someone else told me that the Open Pro was full.”
Neither turned out to be true. The Open Pro Players Championship drew 56 entrants and awarded eight byes in its opening round to the highest ranked competitors. So, plenty of room on the bracket for the likes of Mika Immonen to have tossed his hat into that ring. And as it turned out, the fact that the ‘powers that be’ (ultimately, that would have been Allen Hopkins) were allowing players to compete in both, created a few minor scheduling issues to accommodate the players who did play in both.
This might have gotten trickier if quite a few of the senior-eligible Pro Players had decided to double up, but they didn’t. We might have seen Earl Strickland squaring off against The Iceman in Sunday’s final. Or road buddies, Strickland and Rodney Morris. Or Morris versus Kennedy. There might possibly have been a semifinal featuring four former US Open 9-Ball Champions from back in the day; all present at the 2023 SBE.
From Immonen’s perspective, going into and coming out of the Seniors Pro Player Championships, while it might have been fun to ‘get the band back together’ for a last ‘table’ concert, he was happy with the way it worked out.
“I’ll take it,” he said. “I came in as the favorite in this, and who knows? If I’d played in both, I might have been worn out and not done so well in this one.”
And he did do quite well in this one. The extent to which his name has been circulating in the current, upper branches of the pool player ‘tree’ may be related to how closely you pay attention to the European species of ‘tree.’ But it’s clear that he’s a long way from the days in ‘08/’09 when he went back-to-back at the US Open 9-Ball championships and had his best-recorded earnings year (’09), finishing that year as the #1 player on the AZBilliards Money Leaderboard.
This somewhat ‘out of sight, out of mind’ phenomenon may have contributed to the fact that someone doubted his eligibility for the Senior event. Someone who’d not been paying attention apparently tried to ‘card’ him.
“Someone wanted to see my birth certificate,” he said.
As it happened, the man that Immonen faced in the finals of this event – Robert Krull – had his best (recorded) earnings year at about the same time. His 2010 earnings were better than his ’09 earnings by $50. He earned all of his 2010 money by winning a single stop on the Joss NE 9-Ball Tour. He has not, as far as we know, cashed in a pool event since, until this weekend.
Immonen benefited from an opening-round match that didn’t happen. His opponent failed to show up. He opened up with a tough, double-hill fight against Thomas Haas in the second round (his son, Scott, was battling in the Open Pro event). Haas took the in the second round. He did, winning the second, third, and final set. The last two races to five went double hill. Immonen went on to shut out Bret Huth (5-0, 5-2, 5-1) and drew Frankie Hernandez in one of the semifinals.
Like Immonen, Krull, after downing Ken Kerner 5-3, 5-2, 5-1, met his toughest opponent in the 2nd round, Tommy Kennedy, who gave him an immediate hard time by winning the first two sets of their match 5-3, 5-1 to be on the hill, real quick. Krull rallied to win three in a row 5-2, 5-3, 5-1 and advance to shut out Bryan Farah 5-2, 5-1, 5-3. Krull picked up Jimmy Rivera in the other semifinal.
Immonen and Krull shut Hernandez and Rivera out, respectively. Immonen won his three sets by an aggregate score of 15-7. Krull ended up winning his final set by shutout, making his aggregate score 15-4.
Based on his performance in the final, Krull might have caught up to the Iceman had the set races been the best of nine, instead of five. As it happened, Immonen grabbed the first two sets of the final 5-2, 5-3. Krull put up a double-hill fight in the third set, but in the end Immonen dropped the last 9-ball to claim the SBE’s first Senior Pro Players