The Malta Independent 19 November 2018, Monday

Guzi Grech - Billiards And snooker champion who also won a world title

Malta Independent Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

It is not easy to find a player who takes part in two different disciplines. Neither is it easy for that player to gain maximum concentration in such cases. Yet, Guzi Grech has played the games of snooker and billiards for the past 36 years and what is more important for him and for the country, is the fact that he has been enormously successful in both fields.

In fact, in 1997, he was crowned world billiards champion – his greatest ever triumph – when the tournament was held at Rabat. Now he is 51 years old, but is still strong enough to represent Malta and bring back home some important titles, as was last year’s European Team Championship victory. Here, he tells his story to Henry Brincat.

Guzi Grech is a familiar name in the local sports scene, especially among the snooker and billiards fraternity. He has now been one of Malta’s leading players in the two games since the mid-1970s and has represented Malta in the amateur, as well as the professional world of snooker.

Grech had been lured to play billiards by a certain man called Pawlu “t-Teti”.

“I started so well that within the first two months. I had already compiled a break of over 200. But till 1978, it was really hard for me, because there were some top players around. But then I settled down and from 1978 onwards, I started winning titles regularly in both billiards and snooker,” he said.

Grech is well-known for his break-building in the game of billiards. “My best was in 1987, when in the world championship, I registered 42 century breaks – 16 of them over 200, nine over 300 and four over 400. That ranks as one of my best ever performances,” he said.

Another memorable occasion was that of last year when, together with Alex Borg and Simon Zammit, he won the European team championship. “I must praise my colleagues Alex and Simon. They encouraged me a lot — especially Alex — who insisted that I should join the team as I could still give a strong contribution,” he said.

Grech registered his best points total in competition abroad at that 1987 tournament – a 1,900. Locally, he had scored 1,700 in a match against J.V. Grech at Senglea and that included a break of over 400. “Then the billiards game was played over two hours. Today, it has been turned into frames. If I had to choose, I would prefer the previous system,” said Grech.

Asked which was his best ever match, he quickly referred to a snooker contest against Nick Dyson of Scotland, six or seven years ago in Malta. “He played so well that he registered three century breaks and a 97. One of those century breaks was a possible 147. Yet, I managed to win that match 5-4,” he remarked.

And added: “There were other occasions where I performed well. For example, in the Dubai Classic, I beat Tony Knowles 5-2 and later, I also eliminated Gary Wilkinson. Then I lost to John Higgins in the quarter-final. And that was a close and unfortunate affair. I just needed the brown to make sure of moving into the semi-finals. Instead, I lost because although potting the brown, I went in off at the centre pocket and Higgins went on to clear the table to win the match 5-4,” said Grech.

The Hamrun-born Grech has played against several top world players during a professional career, which started in 1989 and came to an end in 2000. “In the game of snooker, I have played against Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis (lost 4-2), Mark Williams, Terry Griffiths, Tony Knowles, Kirk Stevens (I had beaten him at Blackpool) and Paul Hunter (was 3-0 up, but then lost 5-4), among others.

“You cannot imagine how difficult it is to get to the “top in the world” of snooker. For example, to qualify for the world championship, you have to win five matches. In other ranking tournaments, you have to win three games. And then, you will only be in the round of 32. In the game of billiards, I have played against such world stalwarts as Geet Sethi, Shandila and Agrawal of India – three greats who I will never forget,” he stated.

Commenting on the difference between being an amateur and a professional, Grech said it is vast. “Here we play under completely different conditions. The tables cannot be compared with those found abroad. The atmosphere inside the venues is also different. But unless you are there all the time, you cannot reach the standard of the world stars quickly,” he said.

Grech spoke favourably of Alex Borg, the present Malta champion. “He is a good friend. Sometimes we also train together as we play at the same club – the St Joseph Band Club of Hamrun,” he added.

During his career, Grech has travelled extensively to represent the MBSA and the country in world and European competitions. “Among the countries, I have been to are India, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, England (five times at least), Holland, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Austria and France,” he said.

Grech also thanked the management of Zmerc Pub for their generous sponsorship. “And I cannot forget Carm Zerafa of London. It was also thanks to him that I entered the professional world in 1989. I had been close to a 130 ranking and due to some withdrawals, I was able to play in three tournaments. I reached the top 128 quickly, but travelling between Malta and England made it more difficult.

“I was 47 years old when I had to stop for obvious reasons. Financially, it was a very big problem. Apart from the flights and accommodation, we also had to pay 1,300 pounds sterling in entry fees to be able to take part in the tournaments. Unless you win some matches, and qualify for the superior rounds, you would not be compensated. Otherwise, it was a great experience having been for 11 whole years among the world’s best,” he added.

Grech is adamant that snooker and billiards players deserve to be given more attention by the authorities.

“These two games have always provided lots of satisfactions to local sports lovers. We have won world championships through Paul Mifsud and myself, Alex Borg won a European championship, Tony Drago has maintained such a top ranking for 20 years in the professional field, and we have also been successful locally, so much so that all four of us have won the Sportsman of the Year title – some of us on more than one occasion. It is a pity that the association is not in a position to provide us with the needed funds which, if made available, would enable local players to bring more successes to Malta,” he said.

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