World Snooker Championship: Can Masters champ Allen make a Crucible breakthrough?

Mark Allen
Far more focused - Mark Allen starts building another break

Reigning champion Mark Selby's shock exit from Sheffield has opened up the field for snooker's blue riband title. Ralph Ellis thinks he may have found a value contender.

"Since learning how to handle his issues when he sought help six years ago he’s been pretty constantly in and around the world’s top ten and reached number six a few times, but actually lifting first prize in a big TV tournament is a key psychological boost."

It should be obvious, really, what the toughest problem is for those involved in individual sports. The clue, after all, is in that world individual - you are on your own.

Now that can be a good thing. You don't have to rely on a manager to decide he wants to pick you, a team mate to lay on chances for you to score a goal, or a whole load of team mates to perform well enough to showcase your ability in a winning side.

It can also be a nightmare when you first go on tour. I've seen any number of tennis players or golfers struggle desperately to handle the demands and expense of travelling and the pressure to produce some results to pay for it all and keep going.

So as snooker's World Championship unfolds at The Crucible you feel you have to respect the honesty of Mark Allen who has opened up about his own battles with loneliness and depression when he was first forging his career.

The 32-year-old from Belfast, who turned his own problems around with the help of a sports psychologist, is campaigning for World Snooker to provide a permanent support network for the players as the schedule takes them from city to city, airport to airport, country to country, hotel room to hotel room.

Masters was a breakthrough

The left-hander has always had a reputation for blowing hot and cold with his form on the green baize, and given his problems away from the table it's hardly surprising.

Before finding help he's admitted he would shy away from contact with anybody else, locking himself in his room while on tour watching endless movies. Now he goes out to dinner with other players and forces himself to socialise.

It's a key piece of info that makes Allen definitely one to put on the shortlist of potential World Championship Winners at the attractive price of 22.021/1.

Winning the Masters in January - his maiden Triple Crown trophy - will have been an important breakthrough. Since learning how to handle his issues when he sought help six years ago he's been pretty constantly in and around the world's top ten and reached number six a few times, but actually lifting first prize in a big TV tournament is a key psychological boost.

He can handle pressure

Ronnie O'Sullivan 2.6413/8 might have become an even shorter price in the betting after his dramatic comeback from 4-0 then 6-3 down against Stephen Maguire, but that really only emphasised the roller coaster nature of following him.

And Mark Selby's shock first round exit to Joe Perry has opened up the tournament for pretty much anybody.

Allen plays Perry next, and it wouldn't be a surprise if after producing such a dramatic victory the 43-year-old suffers a bit of a slump.

Certainly Allen 1.625/8 showed he's now more than capable of handling the status of being favourite with the way he disposed of emerging English player Liam Highfield 10-5, making six breaks of 50 or more in the first session to take complete control.

That's another sign of a man who is capable of going deep into the tournament, and after all his problems is now comfortable in his own shoes.

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