Maks Benko’s victory in the first-ever Jayson Shaw Junior Open final against Mika Van Berkel in a hill-hill finish has left the 13-year-old wanting more in his quest to become a leading star of the World Nineball Tour one day.
Benko from Ljubljana, Slovenia only picked up a cue four years ago and hopes his victory is a sign of things to come on the table: “It feels amazing. I had no idea I could win it when I started out. I was playing really well but at the beginning, I was so nervous about the final. I knew I needed to stay focused and calm and not get angry with myself. I watched the game and tried to use the opportunities I had to win it. My father entered me in because they believed I had a chance, I have to thank them so much for giving me the opportunity to come here.”
The youngster came from 7-4 down to defeat Van Berkel in the final after overcoming India’s Laksh Sharma and Byron McGrail of Gibraltar along the way to clinching the $2,500 first-place prize as well as a free entry to the 2024 UK Open Pool Championship and to top it all off Shaw offered to pay for Benko to enter the 2023 US Open Pool Championship at Harrah’s Resort, Atlantic City in September.
A diverse field competed in London’s historic Copper Box Arena with over 17 nationalities represented underlining the global appeal of the World Nineball Tour and the opportunities afforded to all players of the game.
Shaw was proud to see the juniors competing at such a high level and thinks one day they will be taking his spot in the biggest tournaments: “I watched the final. Maks was down 7-4 and he made a great eight ball that changed. He played really well to win it. Congratulations to Maks. I think the Junior Open players are the future of the game, without them there is no future. It’s great to see these guys out here and competing and hopefully, we will see them on the main stage one day soon.”
On what Benko would do with his winning money, he insists it will be going on further training and also the chance to play in the inaugural Francisco Sanchez Ruiz Junior Open taking place during the Spanish Open from June 23-24: “I will spend the money on my game, more training sessions, and paying for other tournaments coming up so I can become the best player I can be.”
The final took place live on the Matchroom Pool YouTube channel alongside the quarter-finals of the 2023 UK Open Pool Championship with fans in the arena sweating the action as well as thousands online with the tournament supported by official partners Cuetec, Kamui, Iwan Simonis, Onboard Sportswear, Aramith Balls and Diamond Billiards. All juniors competing were provided with a free custom Onboard Sportswear jersey and a special KAMUI gift pack that included Roku chalk and a set of cue tips.