Mark Allen will attempt to put his off-table problems to one side and recreate the magic that saw him land the Masters in 2018 when he takes on Judd Trump in the opening round at Alexandra Palace tomorrow.
Allen’s 2018 triumph has been the highlight of a glittering career which has seen him push for a place alongside Ulster legends Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor — the former with two World titles to his name and the latter that famous 1985 Crucible black ball success — among the greats of the game.
But Allen has been beset with off-table problems which led to him withdrawing from the Champion of Champions earlier this season, an event in which he would have been the defending champion.
But he also managed to land the Northern Ireland Open title — and the £70,000 top prize —for the first time with a stunning come-from-behind 9-8 success over John Higgins at the Waterfront Hall in October, also making a maximum break earlier in the tournament.
The Antrim cueman, currently number 13 in the world, couldn’t have landed a much tougher first round encounter in the £725,000 Masters than his clash with Trump, one of the game’s brightest stars.
Troubled star Allen has admitted he’s struggling to focus on snooker amid his off-table problems.
He owed £1.1million in debts when he declared himself bankrupt — with £570,000 of that in unpaid tax to HMRC.
The 35-year-old is also dealing with divorce proceedings and maintenance disputes.
He said: “I’ll be honest, it’s really hard to focus on playing.
“But I had the same problems and I won the Northern Ireland Open so that’s no excuse for my bad results.
“Some days are harder than others. I’m trying my very best at the minute but it’s not quite happening.
“Because there are so many different things at the same time, they are all sort of interlinked. Any individual problem would probably be much easier to sort out.
“One sort of affects the other. None are relentlessly difficult but together it’s very, very hard to get a resolution.
“We’re all waiting on a resolution and it will be nice to come and play snooker and have a free mind again.
“It’s a bit like dominoes; if one falls the rest might follow so that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Reflecting on his cherished Northern Ireland Open triumph, he said: “It’s always nice to win a title early in the season because that’s a box ticked and you relax. But when you get into matches in other events, the pressure comes back. I want to win multiple tournaments this season.
“Maybe winning my home event under that sort of pressure could be what turns it around for me. It’s a very special memory.”
Yesterday, John Higgins moved into the quarter-finals of the Masters with an emphatic 6-2 victory over UK champion Zhao Xintong.
Higgins began with a superb century and, although Zhao responded with 128, the Scot then took control.
A break of 104 gave Higgins a 4-1 lead and he rounded off his win with a composed 78 to gain revenge for his defeat by Zhao at the UK Championship.
Four-time world champion Higgins will face Mark Williams on Thursday.