Allen blows tournament wide open with memorable victory

World number 16 Mark Allen has caused something of a sensation this morning by defeating the defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-11 and making an already unpredictable tournament even harder to call…

Allen’s rise

As regular readers of this blog will know, Mark Allen is a player that I have raved about for some time, indeed I wrote this piece on him back in January where I described him as one of the brightest prospects in the game at the moment.

Admittedly I did not manage to see as much of his win over O’Sullivan as I would ideally have liked (due to being on trains half the time), but from what I did see, he appeared to play his natural attacking game and remained remarkably composed right until the end. Ever since I first saw Mark play at the Crucible back in 2007 against Ken Doherty I was hugely impressed with his self-belief and how utterly comfortable he looked to be on the big stage, qualities that clearly shone through again today.

Despite this I must admit that I did not favour Mark to win the match beforehand, simply because with his fluent, aggressive style of play I felt that this would play into Ronnie’s hands and give him the opportunities he would need to come through the match. As it turned out though, Mark was able to hang on to him and eventually punish the frequent errors coming from O’Sullivan’s cue to full effect, not once losing his concentration along the way.

After his heart-breaking loss to Stephen Hendry at the Crucible last year, he has certainly exorcised those demons now and he will hopefully be able to push on not just for the remainder of this tournament, but for the next few seasons too. There are a few good young players in the game at the moment but with the likes of Judd Trump, I remain convinced that he is one with authentic class and the potential to be genuinely world class – if he is not already.

The tournament

However, Allen is not the only talented individual left in the tournament and following the exit of the world number one, every single player will be fancying their chances of becoming the 2009 World Champion.

Do not take me the wrong way, even with O’Sullivan in the tournament it still promised to be the most interesting World Championship in years, particularly with 14 of the top 16 players coming through the first round into the last 16 stage. Indeed hand on heart I did not expect Ronnie to win this year, though I did expect him to come through this match and perhaps fall in the semi-finals to either Mark Selby or John Higgins.

But with Ronnie now out, for me it changes the whole face of the tournament, all bets will be off as far as the favourite is concerned and the levels of expectation change for certain players. As a friend pointed out to me today, take Stephen Maguire for example. Having focused on this tournament for the whole season he had already put himself under a lot of pressure to win his first world title, but as the highest seed left in the field I suspect that he will become the favourite with many of the bookmakers. As a player who has not always handled such a position well, will  he be able to cope this time?

And what of Ali Carter? Now that Ronnie, the man with and 11-0 record over him is no longer an obstacle, could he suddenly begin to think that this is his perhaps his big opportunity and put himself under more pressure as a result? Same for the so-far excellent (despite hardly anyone mentioning him), Ryan Day who has also struggled against O’Sullivan in the past and would of course have met him in the quarter-finals. As an aside with one of him and Allen now guaranteed to be in the semi-finals it will be good to see a new face on the one-table situation and see how they handle it.

The second quarter remains fascinating, nothing separating Higgins and Cope after a session with the match between Selby and Dott sure to be a tight encounter. Ok so Graeme did breeze past Mark in China recently but I would not read too much into that one. Still, if he can repeat the feat, could we see a second world crown for the pocket dynamo?

The match between Hendry and Murphy looks to be a potential classic if both can perform as they did in their second round matches. As I said yesterday, Stephen looks to be cueing as well as he has in a few seasons and Murphy himself will be full of confidence having seen off Marco Fu with a session to spare. Definitely one to watch is that.

As are all the matches still to come over the course of the remaining nine days of the tournament. My tip at the start was Mark Selby and I’m sticking with that, but I’d almost not be surprised to see any one of the remaining players in the draw come through to take the title! Perhaps the least likely is Jamie Cope but you just never know…