Kozoom readers, thousands of them put together, have a wealth of experience. Their averages may vary from 0.200 to 2.000, but they have all played matches in a friendly, and in a hostile atmosphere. My guess is, they will come up with three different responses to this question.
a) I can't play against X. He throws me off my game. Is it how he plays? Or is it who he is? I don't know. He's not that much better than I am, or maybe not better at all, but I always seem to perform below my own standards against him.
b) I love it. When I'm up against Y, I am so focused, I hardly make any unforced errors. He is not that much worse than I am, or maybe just as good, but I seem to be able to do something extra against him, simply because I'd rather eat the balls than lose.
c) Does not make a difference, really. It's all about your own game, and the roll of the ball. You can't make a run of seven because you dislike somebody. And you can't play 25 % over your usual average, just because there is friendship in the air.
I would happily agree with all three responses, because they all carry a big part of the truth. Sometimes you let a guy throw you off your game: you should blame yourself, more than him. Or you rise to the occasion, because you want to win so badly. Ask yourself: why can't I focus like that, in every match? And there comes a time when you realize that if you are looking at a tough starting position on the table, it really makes NO difference who left it there for you.
Let's recognize the fact that there is a very SMALL group of players who actually behave badly around the table, or are annoyingly stupid and disliked by the majority. Then, there is a very LARGE group of players who are regular human beings, liked by some, not so liked by others, and that second group is almost all of us.
So there is a good chance you will sometimes be up against a player who pushes your buttons, gets under your skin, and that same opponent may be considered a nice guy and good sport by others. Believe it or not, YOU may be considered a horrible person to play against, by some.
The interaction between two 3-cushion players is part of their match. The fight does not just take place on the cloth, the space around the table comes into it as well. There is a battle of wills going on. Some players have aggressive body language, they want to be the alpha male in the room. Whether they go to the table or to the chair, they always have the right of way. Their favorite spot to stand when studying a position is exactly between you (in the chair) and the table. They block your view, they get close and make you uncross your legs, shift in your seat. "I am the one playing billiards, you are a spectator. " That's the message, and if you are insecure, it can hurt.
Other players move like nerds in the gym, avoiding eye contact with the jocks. Their body language may appear submissive, but don't be fooled. They love the fact that this is a duel fought with cues, not fists. "Yes, you are the bigger man, but that won't help you much in a game of chess, right?" They have a good eye for all your weaknesses, and they know their own skills. They run a five, leaving you with the classic position from hell. And then they sit, with a face that is 90 % blank and 10 % smile. Billiard nerds are dangerous.
How do the top players deal with it? As usual, the answer is: better than we do. Amongst the world's best, there are many good relationships, even personal friendships. But conflicts, grudges and personality clashes are also a part of their professional life. You can't LIKE everybody. At some point, another top player will behave in a way that annoys you. And if you let it affect you, he may do it again. Others may copy from him. There is only one good policy: let the referee deal with everything that violates the rules of the game, and ignore everything else.
At the vey summit of 3-cushion, the conduct of the players is exemplary, and we should be proud of that. We have no Diego Maradonas who score with their hand and celebrate it, or Lance Armstrongs who build a career on cheating. TB and DJ have played for big money 30 years now, inflicting more pain on each other than Ali and Foreman. And yet they are both absolutely convinced the other guy will sit down if a 2-cushion shot is counted.
In Bordeaux, Merckx was in such a situation, honestly thought he had the point, and it later turned out to be a 2-railer. Was his opponent Raimond Burgman outraged? No. Burgman publicly said he initially judged the shot the same way Eddy had, and did not blame him at all for playing on.
If you need a role model, our game has those in abundance. Take your pick.