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Mark Allen braced for tough opener in World Championship mission after being drawn against Scott Donaldson

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On cue: Mark Allen expects a tricky start to his world title quest. Credit: John Walton

On cue: Mark Allen expects a tricky start to his world title quest. Credit: John Walton

Ronnie O'Sullivan. Credit: Nigel French

Ronnie O'Sullivan. Credit: Nigel French

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On cue: Mark Allen expects a tricky start to his world title quest. Credit: John Walton

Mark Allen admits he will have his work cut out to get past his first-round opponent Scott Donaldson at the World Championship at the famous Crucible in Sheffield — but refuses to rule out emulating Ulster greats Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor by landing the title.

The Antrim cueman has had well-publicised off-table problems in recent times and would love nothing more than to finish his season with a flourish in the shape of a run all the way to the final of the £2m showpiece.

The 36-year-old has shown that no matter what is going on away from the green baize, when he finds his focus he is more than a match for anyone, winning the Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall last October, a triumph he rated on a par with his famous 2018 Masters success.

World No.15 Allen will take on No.49 Donaldson over the best of 19 frames, starting on Monday morning and playing to a finish that night.

“They are all tough games nowadays — no ‘byes’ through to the quarter-finals in this era,” said Allen.

“The one to avoid for me personally was Stephen Maguire,” he added of the man regarded by many as the pick of the qualifiers.

There are some cracking ties in the opening round in which the 16 seeded players take on the 16 players who came through the qualifying rounds at the English Institute of Sport in which Allen’s pal and practice partner Jordan Brown fell at the final hurdle, going down 10-8 to Michael White.

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World No.1 Ronnie O’Sullivan faces a tough test against Dave Gilbert. The Rocket will ramp up his quest to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles but Gilbert, a semi-finalist three years ago, will fancy his chances.

Title holder Mark Selby opens his campaign tomorrow morning against Welshman Jamie Jones, the pair playing to a finish tomorrow night.

Selby collected his fourth world title last year by beating Shaun Murphy in the final but the Leicester potter has failed to lift a trophy this season and has opened up about his mental health struggles.

Hossein Vafaei, who is set to become Iran’s first ever Crucible competitor, will make his debut in a mouthwatering encounter with 2019 champion Judd Trump. The Ace in the Pack won his first ranking silverware of the season last month at the inaugural Turkish Masters, while Vafaei won his maiden ranking crown at the Shoot Out earlier this year.

“I make my people happy and make them proud, they have someone in the snooker finals,” said Vafaei, the World No.19.

Kyren Wilson, who has reached at least the quarter-finals each year since 2016, has been pitted against Ding Junhui. They are both former finalists in the event, Wilson runner-up in 2020 and Ding in 2016.

Murphy has been handed that unenviable first-round match against the unseeded player many wanted to avoid, former UK Championship winner Maguire.

Neil Robertson won the Masters in January and has been tipped by many to get his hands on a second world title this year, and the Australian, champion in 2010, faces Crucible debutant Ashley Hugill.

Ex-champions John Higgins and Mark Williams have been paired with Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Michael White respectively.

Higgins said: “You don’t have to play lights-out snooker every session to win the World Championship. If you can be solid, stay in there and be involved in the matches, that can be enough. Hopefully then your good stuff can come out and that can win it.

“It is a marathon. It is enjoyable, but it can also get on top of you. At the start of the event you have a lot of time off, but if you get to the latter stages then it is a mental sprint. However, it is the best place you can play snooker.”

The final will be played on May 1 and 2.

FIRST ROUND DRAW: Mark Selby v Jamie Jones, Yan Bingtao v Chris Wakelin, Barry Hawkins v Jackson Page, Mark Williams v Michael White, Kyren Wilson v Ding Junhui, Stuart Bingham v Lyu Haotian, Anthony McGill v Liam Highfield, Judd Trump v Hossein Vafaei, Neil Robertson v Ashley Hugill, Jack Lisowski v Matthew Stevens, Luca Brecel v Noppon Saengkham, John Higgins v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Zhao Xintong v Jamie Clarke, Shaun Murphy v Stephen Maguire, Mark Allen v Scott Donaldson, Ronnie O’Sullivan v Dave Gilbert


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