Fred's nickname is the "extra-terrestrial", or ET. I admire his game as much as anybody, could watch him for days and never get bored. But today I am going to tell you a little secret, hope you keep it between us.
There's no need to tell you that billiards is unlike any other sport. Wladimir Klitschko remained undefeated for nine years and seven months. Steffi Graf won all four Grand Slams and the Olympic gold in a single year. In 21st century 3-cushion, heroics like those are impossible. Raymond Ceulemans in the seventies was the last player who could win, win and win some more. These days, the very best players in the world will lose matches on a regular basis.
That is even true for the best player in the world today. Caudron has lost quite a few already, in the 2016 - 2017 season, and his interim grand average (996/547 = 1.820) is not as impressive as it could have been. But he has not been 100 % healthy, and it shows in some of the results. He's struggled with a nasty cold for a month (Superprestige) and his travelling schedule in the summer was maybe a bit too demanding.
I think it would be unfair to expect from Frédéric that he wins a couple of World Cups every season, and remains unbeaten in the leagues for months. There is another, more positive way of looking at his recent resume, and I see it as a bit more realistic.
- He is the nr. 1 player in the world and has kept that position successfully for half a year now. His nearest rival (TB) will have to defend 120 points from Bordeaux 2015 soon, and FC scored only 24 there. So chances are, if he does well in La Baule and Hurghada, he'll stay in the nr. 1 spot quite a bit longer.
- He won the Porto World Cup, where he had five very tough opponents on his way to the podium (see chart).
- He has won two BTS tournaments (the Belgian Grand Prix's), back to back.
- There was a 40 in 11, a 40 in 12, another 40 in 11, a 50 in 12. Who would not consider a single match like that to be the high point of their billiard life? Caudron had four of those already, and the season is not even halfway.
We all love Caudron's game for its fluency, the quick choice of shot, the execution that always looks effortless. But even a truckload of natural ability will not get you to the nr. 1 spot these days. The modern 3-cushion player needs to have found a near-perfect balance between attacking and tactical play. He needs to know when to be conservative and put his opponent in a straightjacket, and when to take risks and go for the low-percentage shot.
Finding that delicate balance is one of the things that makes competitive 3-cushion a game more suited for players in their thirties and forties, than for the prodigies, however wildly talented. I think that if Caudron has improved in one area in the past four or five seasons, it's in knowing when to play defense.
And then there is the stamina factor. If you want to win major tournaments, you need to be fit. The chain-smoking borderline alcoholic party animal billiard player is a creature of the past. No, you don't have to live like a monk to play good 3-cushion. Some top players smoke, most of them like a glass of wine with dinner or a few beers at the bar in the evening, and that's all fine. But guys like Fred and Dick can stay focused for four days, get their sleep, keep their energy level up. It sounds simple, but it isn't. Ask the new generation of Korean and Vietnamese top contenders. How often have they played brilliantly for three days, and found there was nothing left in the tank on the fourth?
So yes, Caudron is human and he can be beaten. But he can also keep you glued to the Kozoom screen, and make your jaw drop. He is our Messi, and he brings the magic that brings us to the stadium.