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Mark Allen has far more than a slim chance of success

By Frank Brownlow

Mark Allen is playing some of the best snooker of his life - and he hopes that getting into the shape of his life can help him land the game's biggest prizes.

Allen secured his place in the quarter-finals of the Masters at Alexandra Palace with a 6-4 win over four-time world champion John Higgins - then declared talent is a fat lot of good if you aren't fit enough to capitalise on it.

The Ulsterman has embarked on a tough diet and fitness regime in a bid to shed the pounds and make the most of the gifts that make him one of the world's finest players.

Allen, who turns 29 next month, has won two ranking tournaments in his decade in the professional ranks but has yet to land any of snooker's 'triple crown' titles - Masters, UK Championship and World Championship.

And the world number six was searingly honest about what he needs to do to make the big breakthrough.

"There were some shots I couldn't play in the past because I was too fat," Allen admitted.

"But I'm on a strict diet - which is really difficult for me because I love my food - and I've lost over a stone since Christmas.

"Hopefully I will see the benefits in the long run."

Allen played some superb snooker in a high quality contest - Higgins squandered a great chance for a 147 maximum - to book his place in the last eight of the £600,000 event.

Higgins fired breaks of 104 and 132 to go 2-0 up before Allen responded with a 121 then came from 59-0 down to snatch the fourth.

Allen went 3-2 up then two-time Masters champions Higgins made a 96 for 3-3, before an Allen 88 made it 4-3.

In the crucial eighth frame - which Allen later described as the turning point - Higgins led 67-7 but the Antrim cueman clawed his way back and got the snooker he needed on the last red before going 5-3 up.

Frame nine saw Higgins pot 15 reds with blacks to reach 120, but he left himself a difficult yellow and rattled it in the jaws. Allen sealed victory with a run of 65.

Allen, who won the Paul Hunter Classic earlier in the season and finished runner-up in three other events, said: "I like to think I am good under pressure - I have good bottle.

"It was vintage John Higgins at the start and all the players know that on any given day he can turn up and do that.

"Then I stamped my authority on the match in the third frame - making a century put him on the back foot, and I won a good fourth frame.

"Then the eighth frame was a big turning point because if it had gone 4-4 it was anyone's game.

"In the next frame I wanted him to make the 147, partly because he's a nice guy but also because after the buzz he would get from a maximum, the next frame would have been an anti-climax for him and he might have been off guard.

"The fact that he made three centuries and I still won shows it's a good win for me. I'm pleased to get through a match like that because recently if people have played well against me I've lost."

Asked about the banter between the pair, Allen added: "People pay good money to watch us so it's about going out there and putting on a show.

"Of course we want to win but there's no harm in having a bit of fun out there, because we are playing the game that we love for a living and there are not many people fortunate enough to do that."

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