Memories Flood Back For Allen On Winning Return To Belfast

October 16, 2022
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Mark Allen made a strong start to his defence of the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open, claiming a 4-1 opening round victory over Chang Bingyu in front of a raucous crowd in Belfast.

Allen defeated John Higgins 9-8 at the Waterfront Hall last season to secure his first professional title on home soil in what he later described as his best ever professional win. The 36-year-old, who reached the final of the Cazoo British Open earlier this month, will be hoping to add a seventh ranking title to his tally this week.

But, it was Chang Bingyu who started the better of the two in this match, taking the opening frame. The Pistol then found his rhythm and drew level with a clearance of 123. Allen took the second frame before runs of 56 and 70 moved him 3-1 ahead. The Belfast crowd were then treated to a century break in what would prove to be the final frame of the evening. Allen scoring 108 to seal a 4-1 win and a place in the last 64.

“I walked in from practice and I actually thought in my head, ‘this is the first time I’ve been in here since I won that final frame last year’, so those sort of feelings came flooding back,” said Allen, who plays Chen Zifan in the next round. “But you’re trying to block all of those out and just focus on your job which is quite hard to do. When I first walked out into the arena, all of sudden I felt really edgy. I felt really calm all day and then suddenly it hit me. But I was happy to put that to bed in the second frame with a century and I played well after that.

“I always felt like I had something to prove to the people of Northern Ireland. But now that I won last year, I don’t feel like I’ve got that to prove to them (home crowd). I feel like winning it before should help me, it should ease the pressure a little bit. I’ve done it before, so why not do it again.

“The Belfast crowd always support their own really well. It’s probably the most supported Home Nations event and I think it has the best identity of the lot. People in Northern Ireland just love sporting events so it was great to be involved in tonight. I wasn’t feeling that when I missed a few in that first frame but after that it was pretty flawless.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan is also through. He made light work of Lukas Kleckers in a 4-0 whitewash. O’Sullivan took the lead in the match with a break of 66 before edging the second frame 78-46. The German struggled to get going in the contest and the Rocket soon made it 3-0 with a break of 77. Kleckers hopes of securing his opening frame of the match were extinguished following a safety exchange on the brown. Trailing 56-53, he left the object ball over the top right pocket, allowing O’Sullivan to clear up the final four colours and see out a comfortable 4-0 win.

“He (Kleckers) wasn’t at the races and I just had to pot a few balls. I didn’t do anything special,” said O’Sullivan.

“I haven’t even picked up my cue since the Hong Kong Masters! I came home and had a nice weekend with the dogs. They’re the best thing. They’ve restored my faith in life and they give me so much love.”

Two former world champions Mark Williams and Stuart Bingham came from behind to win their qualifying matches against Peter Lines and Allan Taylor respectively. The Welshman took the opening frame of the match before Lines drew level. The current UK Seniors champion then moved in front with a break of 53. Williams responded, winning the following three frames with contributions of 128 and 69 to see him through.

Meanwhile, Bingham won four frames on the bounce after going behind to book his spot in the last 64, with breaks of 110 and 61. World number 11 Luca Brecel eased past Joe O’Connor 4-0, knocking in three fifties in the process, to earn a place in the next round.

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