Mark Allen’s defence of his Dafabet Masters title was short lived as he lost 6-5 to Luca Brecel in the opening match of the tournament.
A full house of 2,000 fans at Alexandra Palace witnessed a tremendous contest, with two centuries and eight more breaks over 50 in the 11 frames. Belgium’s Brecel was never behind and eventually secured victory in a tense deciding frame. He goes through to the quarter-finals to face Ding Junhui or Jack Lisowski on Thursday evening.
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Allen won his first Triple Crown title here 12 months ago, and went on to enjoy the best year of his career in 2018. He has won two ranking events this season but couldn’t get the better of a determined opponent today.
Big screens were used around the top of the venue seating for the first time to enhance the fan experience
Brecel took the opening frame with a break of 75 then Allen levelled with a 67. A run of 50 saw Brecel regain the lead and he got the better of frame four to make it 3-1 at the interval.
World number six Allen fought back with 96 and 136 for 3-3. Brecel then made a 140, an early contender for the £10,000 high break prize. The superb scoring continued as Allen made 83 and 99, sandwiching an 88 from Brecel, to leave the score at 5-5.
Early in the decider, world number 14 Brecel was faced with a tough safety, and decided attack was the best form of defence, lashing in a fabulous long red. That set up a break of 58 to give him control. Allen had an opportunity to counter and after potting one red, he clipped a thin cut on the brown into a centre pocket but was unlucky to see the cue ball glance off the green and into the opposite centre. That proved his only chance.
Last year, the same two players met in the first round and Brecel bizarrely took two cues into the arena, having lost his preferred cue a few months earlier and struggled to find a replacement. “This has to be my best win because of the year I’ve had. Last year was so tough,” admitted the 23-year-old.
“There were even times where I was almost looking for another job, everything was going against me on and off the table. It was really tough mentally and to win today was incredible. I had cue issues, a shoulder issue and then players would play unbelievable against me. I’m not a negative person but it was unbelievable at times. Today was a game to shake all of that off.
“I was telling my family that I was confident to beat the top players again. It’s good for your belief because that’s what you need to beat these guys.”
For the first time, players were allowed to practise for ten minutes on the match table before the start. Brecel took up the option but Allen didn’t. “It helped me settle,” Brecel added. “When I got my chance in the first frame I made a good break. It helped. Anytime I get a chance to do that I will do it. I’m surprised Mark didn’t.”
Allen said: “I’m very disappointed to lose. I definitely didn’t want to give my crown up as easily as I did in round one. But I’ve got no complaints. Luca played very well to beat me. I didn’t miss many pots but my long game wasn’t there today.
“I just hung in with some breaks and I just didn’t get a chance in the last. His long potting was better than mine. Luca has shown he’s a top 16 player all day long. He’s been on a bad run but I think that’s behind him now because he played some very good stuff.”