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Fearless Mark Allen has the World Championship fixed in his sights

By Frank Brownlow

Mark Allen will be confident of defying the odds in the World Championship.

According to the bookies, the Ulsterman should make it through to the quarter-finals at the Crucible.

Allen begins his title quest in the £1.35million event today against Ryan Day, and he should prove too strong for the Welshman over the best of 19 frames which is played to a finish tonight.

After that, it's Barry Hawkins for a place in the last eight.

And if Allen can get through to the quarter-finals, he might just have the momentum to go all the way to a first World crown.

The 29-year-old boasts two World Open titles as his career highlights but the big one has always eluded him.

Allen reached the semi-finals in 2009, losing 17-13 to eventual champion John Higgins after beating defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan 13-11.

Allen, currently world number 12, is carrying on Northern Ireland's fine tradition in the sport, which reached its peak with World titles for Alex Higgins in 1972 and 1982, and for Dennis Taylor in 1985 in the famous black ball final against Steve Davis.

Joe Swail, now 45 and who reached the final round of qualifying for this year's event, has also been a fine ambassador for the game here, particularly with semi-final appearances at the Crucible in 2000 and 2001.

Mark Selby beat O'Sullivan 18-14 in last year's final, an outcome Allen was not expecting.

"To be honest I was surprised, especially with Ronnie O'Sullivan's record in major finals, he doesn't lose too many and he had never lost a final in Sheffield, so it was surprising," he said.

"But I think that Selby has just got that little bit of a knack against Ronnie and I don't think that Ronnie particularly likes playing him.

"I think he is probably one of the few players who could beat Ronnie over that distance and he proved it from 10-5 behind.

"I don't think anyone in their right mind would have backed Selby at that stage, but he showed what he is capable of and why he is world number one.

"I don't think that Ronnie fell apart, but I don't think he had anything left after he had lost such a big lead and the last few frames were just a matter of Selby holding himself together because I thought that there was only one winner.

"I think it's great for the game because after what happened the year before with Ronnie not playing all season and then coming back and winning, it made a mockery of the rest of us.

"It was really good to see Selby going on to beat him because you have to treat the game with the respect that it deserves. It found Ronnie out in that final."

One of Allen's best ever results at the Crucible was that win over O'Sullivan back in 2009.

"At the time it was probably my biggest win and even now it is still up there as one of my biggest wins," he said.

"It shows that if you play your own game and play well, you are capable of beating anyone and that includes Ronnie.

"I think the problem that players have is that there is a percentage of them who are beaten before they start against Ronnie.

"That could be a mental thing because of the way that he is capable of playing, or it could be mental scars if you have played him a lot of times over the years.

"But I think for a lot of the younger ones like myself, Judd (Trump), even Selby, (Neil) Robertson and people like that, they don't quite have those battle scars like a lot of the other ones do, like say (John) Higgins or (Mark) Williams.

"They are not scared of beating Ronnie any more, I think that is really showing."

And that's an attitude that could come in handy for Allen as the tournament progresses.

In yesterday's games, Hawkins saw off Matthew Selt 10-9, Robertson beat Welshman Jamie Jones 10-2 and Stuart Bingham held a 9-7 advantage over Robbie Williams.

Ding Junhui takes a 4-3 lead over Mark Davis into today's conclusion of the tie.

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