A new superstar of women’s snooker was born on Monday night as Thailand’s Nutcharut Wongharuthai claimed a first world title in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, seeing her final opponent Wendy Jans of Belgium sensationally get the snooker required in the decider on the brown before missing the final black – allowing her to clinch a thrilling 6-5 win in Sheffield.
From the semi-final stage onwards it was certain there would be a new winner, and Wongharuthai -known as ‘Mink’ to most on the circuit – was the favorite to get the job done. As it turned out, the 22-year-old, who will be contesting these showpieces for a long time to come, left it very late to dig her way out of trouble.
Trailing 5-3, her highest break was just 25 at that stage – and this was the talented prospect that became the first woman to make a maximum 147 break – streamed back in 2019 in her club in Bangkok, and available to see on Youtube where it has been viewed almost two million times. She also has a high-break in competition of 115.
But as the key pots started to fly in the confidence came rushing back, and Mink found her form at just the right time of the final with her back firmly against the wall.
Wongharuthai said: “It was a very exciting finish, and way to get my first world title. I am delighted to have won. When I was 5-3 behind I thought that I had lost, and I really just started to play for fun because I was too tense. Luckily, it worked.
“I am sure that I can keep improving and getting better, I am not finished developing, and I want to find out what level I can reach and where that stands against the men on tour. I plan to take up the offer of the card. Thai player Noppon Saengkham has helped me a lot, both back at the club in Bangkok and also over here in the UK.”
Mink’s mother owned a snooker club, while her father played the game. She started at the age of 10, and now lives in a flat above her practice base in Thailand’s capital city. This has certainly been coming. Wongharuthai beat 12-time and defending world champion Reanne Evans 4-3 in the final of this year’s British Open.
And at a recent Q Tour event, the secondary, amateur tour operating just below the main tour, she beat five men including two former professionals before losing in the quarter-finals. The main tour, for so long a dream for Wongharuthai, is now though a reality.
As well as the £6,000 first prize – compared to the £500,000 won by Mark Selby last year – and lifting the Mandy Fisher trophy, the arguably far bigger reward is a card to join the tour next season along with Evans and Ng On Yee of Hong Kong, already there from the women’s game.
Whether it was the nerves or the sheer scale of the possible achievement, Wongharuthai never got going in the final until all looked lost at 5-3 down – and then, suddenly, came flashes of the prodigious talent that has been the talk of the women’s game.
For Jans, too, with Evans and On Yee out of the picture, this represented a huge opportunity, and at the age of 38, maybe even a once in a lifetime chance. And even though Wongharuthai scrapped her way to two of the first three frames, the Belgian was looking the more composed player.
The 17-times winner of the Belgian national women’s title, the first of those successes coming way back in 1998, made an excellent break of 84 in frame four to level at 2-2. And the pattern of the next two frames was similar, with Wongharuthai getting bogged down as the miss count mounted.
Jans took advantage by claiming two very nervous frames to move into a commanding 4-2 lead. Her rival pulled the next back on the colours, but when the 13-time European champion knocked in breaks of 39 and 30 in frame eight, she was two up with three to play.
But in the nick of time, Wongharuthai’s game returned. The next two frames saw that high break only marginally improved in each, first a 28 and then a 32, but the key shots were flying in and the confidence restored – so much so that it looked heavy odds-on ‘Mink’ would prevail in the decide.
So it proved, but only just. After battling on the colors to get the snooker she needed Jans got it on the final brown, potted blue and pink and had a relatively easy black for the title. But she snatched at it, leaving a relieved Wongharuthai a black into the middle for the victory.
Jans looked devastated, given the way events had unfolded in the last three frames, and especially in the dramatic finale. From the small Belgian town of Bree near the Netherlands border, she had been hoping to emulate the achievements of some very famous names from that town.
Dutch-Belgian Formula One world champion Max Verstappen grew up nearby, while former tennis Grand Slam winner and world No1 Kim Clijsters lives there, and Real Madrid and ex Chelsea goalkeeper Thibault Courtois was born there.
And the Belgian had been the one to blow this tournament wide open with her emphatic 4-1 win over reigning champion Evans in the quarter-finals. In the end, though, it was another who took advantage of Evans’ shock early exit.