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Snooker: Has World Grand Prix success turned Mark Allen into Crucible contender?

Mark Allen is very much the man of this snooker season so far, having won the World Grand Prix on Sunday night to claim his third ranking title of a stunning campaign.

But can the Northern Irishman now exorcise the ghosts of one of his lowest moments in the sport and win a first World Snooker Championship when the tournament starts in April?

WhatWorld Snooker Championship
WhereCrucible Theatre, Sheffield
WhenSaturday 15th April - Monday 1st May 2023
How to watchBBC
OddsRonnie O'Sullivan 4/1, Judd Trump 4/1, Neil Robertson 11/2, Mark Selby 7/1, Mark Allen 11/1

Grand statement from in-form Northern Irishman

Mark Allen's victory at the World Grand Prix was certainly not plain sailing, but his week's work in Cheltenham further demonstrated how much the 36-year-old has matured as a player and how much of a Crucible threat he becomes because of it.

He was made to work hard by Joe O'Connor in round two, pipping the Leicester ace in a decider, and then ground down Jack Lisowski 5-4 in the quarter-finals, a five-hour marathon slightly overshadowed by a free-ball controversy.

Allen brushed himself down, flattened Noppon Saengkham 6-1 in the semis, before squaring up to Judd Trump in the final.

Allen produced some clinical snooker against Trump, reeling off the last four frames of the afternoon session to go 6-2 up and winning the first in the evening to move to within three of the title.

Then the nerves kicked in, Trump started to flow and before you knew it, the match was level at 9-9 before Allen, in his own words, fell over the line in the decider.

Lifestyle changes make a difference

Allen had showed all sides to his game in Cheltenham. A tournament-high break of 141 demonstrated he remains a sublime potter in among the balls, but he also showed he wasn't afraid to turn pots down, especially when he had his foot on an opponent's neck.

Lisowski, for example, is a free-flower who simply hates to be tied down - which is exactly what Allen made sure happened. It was an illustration of a new-found table-craft which, in the drawn-out marathon which is the World Championship, can only be a positive.

And his confidence is high anyway. The Grand Prix after all was a third ranking title of the year, adding to the Northern Ireland Open and UK Championship crowns he picked up before Christmas.

That's nine career ranking titles now and three in a year for the first time. He is up to a career-high No.3 in the world and looks a different player - quite literally.

And the reason, of course, is that he has shed nearly six stone in weight. A player who openly admitted to struggling with depression and last summer declared himself bankrupt, suddenly looks in great shape, feels better, has a settled private life, a better practice regime and he is getting his rewards.

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If the player they call The Pistol wants to go down as one of the greats, he needs a world title under his belt.

And the bitter and inescapable truth is that for a decade or more he has never come close to winning in Sheffield and he knows that better than anyone.

Maybe it's his past record that explains why the best player in the world this season - statistically at least - is 11/1, with four players priced up shorter.

Back in 2009 Allen arrived at The Crucible aged just 23, seeded for the first time and confident - a confidence that didn't look misplaced when he toppled defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan in round two.

He eventually made the semis where he bravely fought back from 13-3 down to lose 17-13 to John Higgins. He lost but a star was born, or so we thought.

Instead, and incredibly, in 13 subsequent visits Allen has never once gone past the quarter-finals, a pretty dismal record which reached a nadir last year when he slumped to a shocking 13-4 loss to O'Sullivan, who had slammed Antrim man's "beer, bets and curry" lifestyle.

O'Sullivan is 4/1 to win a record eighth modern world title, but Allen, with those criticisms from last year ringing in his ears, will now feel he is ready to claim his first.

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