Mark Allen's dramatic 13-11 victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan, the defending champion, to reach the quarter- finals of the world championship here yesterday showed conclusively that the 23-year-old Northern Irishman possesses not only the game but also the temperament and the heart that is needed for big matches.
"He played great, brilliant, a lot better than me," said O'Sullivan of this dashing left-hander with a hint of the old Jimmy White about him. "If he plays like that he can win the tournament." Allen agreed: "If I played like that, there's no reason why not."
Throughout his career, from winning every junior age-group title in Northern Ireland, its amateur championship and the 2004 world and European amateur titles, Allen has been accustomed to holding trophies aloft. It may be asking too much for him to go all the way this time, for as Stephen Hendry remarked of his own case: "I'm in the quarter-finals but that's less than halfway there."
Nevertheless, Allen has at least an even chance against Ryan Day with a place in the semi-finals at stake, the Welsh No 1 having completed his runaway 13-5 victory yesterday over Nigel Bond, the 43-year-old qualifier who had surprisingly ousted Peter Ebdon, winner of the China Open earlier this month.
Everyone knows that O'Sullivan's best is virtually unstoppable but in championship snooker it is the standard a player never falls below which may be more to the point. The three-times champion made enough errors to last him a week in his opening session against Allen but still split it 4-4 and was much improved in earning a 9-7 lead to carry into the final session.
Allen, though, still "felt good" and soon levelled at 9-9, making breaks of 59 and 69 as the struggling O'Sullivan potted only three balls in two frames. O'Sullivan looked likely to regain the lead but, from 64 behind, Allen fought back in four scoring visits to tie the scores and struck a significant psychological blow by sinking the extra black from distance to lead 10-9.
O'Sullivan equalised with 105 – a 147 attempt – and again at 11-11 but by now was clearly feeling under pressure. Allen, however, is not the sort to suffer from clincher's disease on the brink of famous victories. From 0-38 he made 80 and with unanswered runs of 34 and 46 in the next frame he completed his memorable triumph.
In view of Shaun Murphy's desperately tight 10-9 win over Marco Fu in December's UK Championship final, no one could have expected that he would despatch him 13-3 with a session to spare here. The 2005 champion scored heavily, including three centuries, and will provide formidable quarter-final opposition for Hendry.
Neil Robertson, who won November's Bahrain Open, took the last frame of the day to carry a 5-3 lead over Ali Carter, last year's runner-up and winner of February's Welsh Open, into their middle session this evening.