Name: Ratchapol Pu-Ob-Orm (internationally known as James Wattana)
DOB: 17th January 1970
Turned Pro: 1989
Highest Ranking: #3 (1994/5)
Highest Break: 147×3
Career Highlights: 1994 & 1995 Thailand Open Champion, 1992 Strachan Open Champion, 1992 World Matchplay Champion, Twice World Championship semi-finalist
One of Asia’s finest ever players, Thailand’s Ratchapol Pu-Ob-Orm, or James Wattana as he is better known, is a professional of over 20 years and remains capable of scoring heavily as demonstrated by his tournament high break during the 2011 World Championship qualifiers.
At his peak a fine player, renowned for being one of the best middle-pocket potters of the 1990’s and he remains to this day one of only four players to have made more than two maximum breaks in competition play. It is often noted that the only thing to stop James from going on to be a really great player is that he lacked the power game to really compete at the highest level, finding for example that he would often finish the wrong side of the blue, making it harder to win frames in one visit.
Despite this though, James has done a lot to raise the profile of the game in Asia and as the eighth player in the game to earn over £1m in prize money, whatever happens in the future then he can be proud of his achievements.
As an amateur James enjoyed a successful career in the 1980’s as he won the Asian Championship in 1986 and 1988, as well as the 1986 Thailand Masters, his first major title. This victory was all the more remarkable when you consider that he was aged just 16 at the time and had to defeat three world champions in the form of Dennis Taylor, Steve Davis and Terry Griffiths to take the trophy.
Although he struggled initially in the IBSF World Championship, failing to progress beyond the group stages in 1985 and 1986, he did manage to make the quarter-finals in 1987 before going all the way to capture the title the following year with an 11-8 win over Barry Pinches in the final. Not only did this avenge a loss to Barry a couple of years previously in the British U-19 Championship but it also allowed him to turn professional for the 1989/1990 season.
Early Professional Career
Given his amateur success many expected James to make an impact on the main tour and that is exactly what happened as he managed to go all the way to the final of the Asian Open, only his second ranking event, before losing out 9-6 to world champion elect Stephen Hendry. He continued to perform well for the rest of the campaign, reaching the semi-finals of the Grand Prix and the quarter-finals of the Masters which helped him to finish at number 32 at the end of his first season.
Though his second season was not quite as productive in the ranking events as he failed to go beyond the last 16 of a tournament and also lost his World Championship qualifier 10-8 to the unheralded Craig Edwards, further success was to be had in the invitational events. At the start of the season he was able to win the Hong Kong Masters before going on to make his first competitive maximum break on his way to the semi-finals of Barry Hearn’s World Masters.
Starting his third season up at number 20 in the rankings, things were to get even better for James as he consistently reached the latter stages of ranking events before finally winning one, the Strachan Open which he claimed with a 9-5 victory over reigning world champion John Parrott. As well as making another 147 break, he was also able to qualify for the Crucible for the first time where he defeated Tony Jones in the first round before bowing out to eventual winner Stephen Hendry 13-10.
These results ensured that James would start the 1992/3 season ranked up inside the top 16 for the first time at number seven and although he failed to add to his tally of ranking events that year, he nevertheless reached two finals and four semi-finals to boost his ranking up a further two places to to fifth. Notably the last of those semi-final appearances was to come at the World Championship where he defeated Tony Jones (again), Steve James and John Parrott before losing out 16-9 to Jimmy White.
Third in the world
James at the 2004 Grand Prix
Success continued to come in the invitational events however as he won both the Humo Masters and the World Matchplay Championship, as well as reaching the final of the B&H Masters at Wembley. The following season saw a return to winning ways in the ranking events as he took a famous victory at the Thailand Open as well as reaching two further finals to see his ranking move up to a career-high of number three.
1994/5 was another solid year for James as he was able to defend his Thailand Open title, but a last 32 exit in the World Championship against Gary Wilkinson meant that his ranking would drop back down to fifth.
Top 16 Battle
James began to struggle after this defeat and having lost early in the Grand Prix to #38 ranked Fergal O’Brien and in the UK Championship to #17 ranked Andy Hicks, came into the season-ending World Championship needing to win his opening round match to keep his place in the top 16. Though he managed to do so with a 10-8 win over Jimmy Michie, he was comprehensively beaten 13-4 by Nigel Bond in the last 16 and nevertheless dropped down to 12th.
1996/7 was even worse in many respects as he continued to lose out early, but a run to the semi-finals of the World Championship at the end of the season which was ultimately ended by Hendry saw him hang onto his place in the rankings. Though he recorded his third maximum break during the following season, losing out in round one at the Crucible to Fergal O’Brien was a damaging blow and he slipped to 15th as a result.
It had been coming for a few years but finally James’ luck ran out at the end of the 1998/9 season as another Crucible defeat to Stephen Hendry, this time in the last 16, saw him drop down to 22nd, out of the elite top 16 which meant that he would have to qualify for events again.
Continued decline and tour relegation
Wattana at Pontin’s
Having lost his top 16 place, James’ struggles continued and though he managed to hold on to his top 32 place for a further four seasons, he never really threatened to win a fourth ranking event title and following a nightmare 2002/3 campaign, dropped down to 34th.
He did at least enjoy a revival during the 2005/6 season when he managed to win at least one match in five of the six ranking tournaments stage and reached what is to date his last ranking event quarter-final at the 2006 Welsh Open. Unfortunately though he was to lose out to Barry Hawkins before suffering a 10-4 hammering by reigning world champion Shaun Murphy at the Crucible and things were soon to go downhill fast as he was able to win just two matches during 2006/7.
Although the immediate damage was not to be too great to his ranking following his excellent season previously, James needed a big year during 2007/8 not just to stay in the top 48, but to keep his place on the main tour which he had held since 1989. Unfortunately though he was able to win just one match all season and finishing 66th on the list as a result, was relegated from the tour after nearly 20 years.
Life as an amateur
Having lost his professional status many were wondering whether James might decide to hang up his cue and retire but as it turns out he was to carry on as an amateur and just as in the 1980’s, he has made a success of it. Just a couple of months after his tour relegation he managed to win the Thailand national championship for the first time in over 20 years and as a result he was able to compete in the IBSF World Championship once again, though he was to eventually lose out in the last 16 in Austria.
While this saw one possible avenue back to the main tour come to a dead end, in May 2009 he was to compete in the 25th Asian Championship and with a 7-3 victory over Mei Xiwen in the final, managed to take the title. This meant that James would now be back on the main tour for the 2009/10, a welcome return for a popular player.
James in action at the 2010 World Championship qualifiers
James’ return to the professional circuit got off to a slow start as he lost his opening two qualifying matches against Noppadol Sangnil and Stephen Rowlings to leave himself with an early mountain to climb if he was to return his main tour status for the following season.
Things began to improve at the UK Championship however as he defeated Lee Page to win his first match of the season, before he also won his opening fixture at the Welsh Open qualifiers. His best result was to come at the China Open qualifiers where he defeated Simon Bedford, Joe Delaney, Martin Gould and Joe Swail to qualify for the venue, losing just four frames in the process!
He was then able to follow this up with another victory over Page at the World Championship before he recorded an impressive 10-8 win over the improving Peter Lines to reach the third round. Although he lost out there to Scot Marcus Campbell, he had at least assured that he would remain on the tour for another season, finishing top of the one year list of the players not already inside the top 64 on the two-year list.
Like a few of the more experienced players, James struggled for results during the Players Tour Championship but did win matches during both the Shanghai Masters qualifiers and the World Open in order to keep his ranking in and around the magical top 64 mark.
James during the 2011 World Championship qualifiers
Unfortunately for James though, despite continuing to perform well during the seven full ranking tournaments staged, reaching the third round of the 2011 World Championship qualifiers in Sheffield with victories against Justin Astley and Andy Hicks, his lack of points from the PTC was to come back to haunt him as he finished 66th in the rankings and was relegated from the tour as a result.
There was however to be a reprieve as James was handed a wildcard spot onto the tour for 2011/12 by the WPBSA.
As has often been the case for James since his return to the main tour, the Thai favourite saved his best performances for the major tournaments as he qualified for the venue stages of both the Shanghai Masters and the German Masters tournaments by winning a number of matches, notably against Stephen Hendry in the final qualifying round of the latter.
The second half of James’ season was to be relatively unspectacular, however he was to produce a fine comeback against Li Yan at the World Championship qualifiers to win 10-6 and retain his main tour status for 2012/13.
James’ strongest result during the early stages of the 2012/13 season was to be a run to the final qualifying round of the Australian Goldfields Open, while he also reached the last 16 of the UKPTC1 event in Gloucester.
Following that tournament however, the Thai veteran was to struggle for results, winning just a further seven matches during the season, though he was able to set up a venue tie with Judd Trump at the German Masters with a 5-2 victory against Li Yan.
The 2013/14 season was to prove a struggle for James, his best results being a couple of last 32 runs at the International Championship and Welsh Open events, while he also reached the last 48 of the Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers early in the season.
Ultimately however, James was to unable to maintain his position inside the world’s top 64 at the end of the season, finishing 75th and being relegated from the tour as a result.
He was though to be awarded one of three ‘invitations’ alongside Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, meaning that in the event that there are fewer than 128 entries for a professional event, he will be able to enter during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons.
James was to pick and choose his events during the course of the 2014/15 season, but struggled for results as he won just one match all year, against countryman Ratchayothin Yotharuck at the Shanghai Masters qualifiers.
Ranking Event wins (3)
Non-Ranking Event wins (4)
|Hong Kong Challenge||1990|