Allen Downs Stevens To Defend Haikou Crown

Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen has today become the first man to successfully defend a full-ranking event title since John Higgins at the 2011 Welsh Open, by defeating former UK Champion Matthew Stevens 10-4 at the Haikou World Open. Claiming his second ranking event title overall, Mark takes home the top prize of £85,000, as well as moving up to a career-high fifth in the latest projected seedings…

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Having demolished John Higgins during his semi-final victory against the Scot yesterday, defending champion Mark Allen came into the 2013 Haikou World Open final as the strong favourite, and quickly set about his task today, taking all four frames before the mid-session interval to lead 4-0.

Matthew had his chances, but as was often the case yesterday during his semi-final victory against Neil Robertson, the Welshman struggled to win frames in one visit, Allen stealing the opener thanks in part to an outlandish double on the brown, as well as the fourth with an excellent clearance.

After the break, Stevens was able to hit back, breaks of 67 and 112 dispelling any fears of a whitewash to get him back into the match. Allen however was not to be overawed, taking the next frame, before adding 100 of his own to put himself four clear again at 6-2.

Stevens again was able to respond, taking the next frame to leave himself three behind heading in the evening session, but it was Allen who was to take a tense opening frame of that session, a brilliant blue paving the way for a successful clearance.

Though Stevens was again to hit back and take the 11th frame with his second century of the match, Allen was able to take the next two frames to lead 9-4 at the final mid-session interval and as the presentation party rather unfortunately took up their seats on the front row ahead of the resumption, Mark duly finished with 68 to secure the title.

As has been well-documented, Mark was not overly complimentary about the venue a year ago, but having won his first two ranking event titles on Hainan Island, it was no wonder that he was smiling today as he took the trophy today.

Up to fifth place in the latest projected seedings, Mark has every chance of securing a top eight seeding for the upcoming World Championship, for which he will surely fancy his chances of making another run at, following his semi-final appearance back in 2009. His victory sees him become the first man to successfully defend a ranking title outside of Wales, since Mark Williams back in 2000 at the Thailand Masters.

For Matthew Stevens meanwhile, a disappointing end to what has been an excellent tournament for the Welshman, which saw him use a variety of cues to win his opening couple of matches, before defeating Judd Trump and Neil Robertson to reach his first ranking event final since the 2008 Bahrain Championship. Though his finals record now stands at one victory from eight finals, the points that he has earned this week will at least be enough to see him remain ranked inside the top 16 ahead of the World Championship and avoid the need to qualify, barring something very strange happening!

Turning to the event as a whole, there have been a number of turning points, from flashing lights, to flies, to enthusiastic photographers, to the lack of spectators. Despite all of those things, it has been an enjoyable tournament to watch and there has been some excellent snooker on display, notably from Mark Allen and earlier in the week, John Higgins.

The issue of the crowds will no doubt be debated for some time to come, particularly coming so soon after the excellent scenes in Berlin, where the obvious enthusiasm of the German spectators is something to behold. With ticket prices reportedly well in excess of £100 for the semi-finals, it is not surprising that the turnout is so low, something that as is evident from your reactions on Twitter, creates a bad impression of the tournament as a whole for those watching from afar.

On a more positive note however, a word for ITV Sport’s return to snooker, which it is fair to say has gone down very well with snooker fans generally. While it might have lacked the production and the razzmatazz of the BBC events, the back to basics approach was a refreshing one, with informed analysis of the snooker winning out over gimmicks and an over-reliance on old catchphrases.

With Neal Foulds and Clive Everton doing an excellent job in particular, I very much hope that the viewing figures were strong enough to have persuaded the powers that be at ITV to give ranking event snooker another go and that this will not be the last tournament that we see on the channel in the near-future. Time will tell.

Next up, a week off, prior to the PTC Grand Finals from Galway, which start on 12th March 2013…