Mark Allen has sealed a comprehensive 10-5 defeat of Liam Highfield to book his place in the second round of the Betfred World Championship.
Allen achieved one of his career ambitions in January by clinching his maiden Triple Crown title with victory at the Masters. However, the £200,000 top prize did nothing to solidify his place in the world’s top 16, with the invitational event not counting towards the rankings.
The Pistol only just edged into the final 16th automatic qualifying place for the Crucible at the season’s penultimate tournament, the China Open. However, after clinching his spot at the Theatre of Dreams he will now be a big contender for the title, having put on an impressive display in the opening round.
Highfield’s Crucible debut ends in defeat, but the 27-year-old will be able to reflect on his best season to date. For the first time he will end the campaign in the world’s top 64 and as a result will keep his current prize money on his ranking.
The world number 64 claimed the opening frame of the morning with a break of 99 to pull within two at 6-4. Then crucially Allen came out on top in a tense 11th frame and pushed the gap back up to three.
From there the Antrim potter took charge of proceedings. He looked more at ease as he controlled the frames without making many large contributions, top scoring with a break of 50 as he came through a 10-5 victor. He’ll face Mark Selby’s conqueror Joe Perry up next for a place in the quarter-finals.
Allen said: “He potted some phenomenal long balls and I felt I played some pretty good safety. I was calm, and I’ve been working on that with my coach Chris Henry. I felt really relaxed and if he had won that 11th frame to make it 6-5, I honestly felt I was just playing in the club and that’s the first time I’ve really felt that. Although I didn’t make big breaks I was very professional out there.
“A lot of people would have fancied Mark Selby to get through his game and I’m no different, but Joe Perry is a class act. People need to give Joe credit for the way he played rather than Selby getting beat. Joe’s been a top player for a number of years now, he’s won the Players Championship before and been knocking on the door of these big events for a long time, so it’ll be a very tough match. ”
Afterwards Highfield was appreciative of his opportunity to grace the Crucible stage after being hospitalized with a flare up of his Crohns disease 12 months ago.
Highfield said: “This time last year I was in hospital, so I didn’t think I’d ever be here. To be honest I didn’t think I’d be competing again at all. It’s been an up and down year. It started so low, but it’s ended here at the Crucible which is really nice for me. People have stuck by me through hospital visits and treatment, and I’m still having treatment now. That’s just something I’ll have to manage throughout the years I suppose.
“Hopefully in the future I can make my family proud and go really far here. Given how comfortable I felt out there, if I get used to it maybe I can win it one day.”
Barry Hawkins emerged from a fiercely contested first session against Stuart Carrington with a 5-3 advantage.
The Hawk has shown impressive form since Christmas, reaching two finals at the Welsh Open and the China Open. However, he was tested by world number 56 Carrington, who had trailed 4-1.
The Grimsby potter pulled within two after taking a 50-minute sixth frame, the longest of the tournament so far. A run of 78 then saw him close the gap to one at 4-3.
However, Hawkins took the final frame of the morning thanks to a break of 60 to ensure he holds a 5-3 lead going into this evening’s concluding session.