Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen looked worryingly disinterested in snooker, and perhaps life in general, at 9-6 down in his first round match against Matthew Stevens but reeled off the last four frames to snatch an unlikely victory at the World Championship in Sheffield.
It has been quite well documented in recent weeks that the Ulster potter has been suffering from depression, which came as a distinct surprise to many given his vibrant attitude both on and off the table.
The 25 year-old, who has a young daughter from a former relationship with fellow professional Reanne Evans, honestly admitted his feelings and shared that snooker is at the bottom of his priorities at the moment.
That certainly appeared evident this evening as the former semi-finalist looked resigned to a defeat from a very early stage in the evening’s second session.
Having only been 5-4 down going into the final bout of play, and the fact his opponent Stevens was far and away from his most fluent best, the signs were not good from Allen when he sat slumped in his chair and the stress of effort at even being in The Crucible was strained across his face throughout.
Yet, with the help of a morale boosting century at 9-6 behind, a mammoth clincher on the black in the 17th frame and a complete capitulation in form and nerves from his opponent ensured that another match will be added to the list of Crucible Classics.
Allen rose up the snooker rankings in record speed – entering the elite top 16 within only three years of turning professional – but it is obvious that he has more important things to sort out in his life before he can begin enjoying the game again.
Snooker players suffering from depression is not a new phenomenon. Ronnie O’Sullivan is the most prominent while fellow former world champion Graeme Dott is a recognisable other, something the Scot spoke candidly about in his autobiography that was released in the build up to this tournament.
A significant amount of time is absorbed by travelling to and from events and exhibitions, practising and playing while the nature of the sport of snooker ensures that quite a lot of those periods are spent alone.
Hopefully, this is only a temporary lull in his life and he will be able to get back to doing what he knows and loves best – entertaining large numbers in snooker arenas.
This result may aid that difficult process and serve as a metaphor for the struggles that perhaps mentally lie ahead for the former semi-finalist in Sheffield.
There were particularly poignant scenes at the climax when, on potting the decisive ball, Allen punched the air in delight and pointed at his daughter Lauren who was smiling proudly in the front row.
For Stevens, though, it is a continuation of devastating collapses that he has suffered on the biggest stage.
The Welshman has a fantastic record at The Crucible having reached the semi-final on five occasions and the final twice but has developed the unwanted tag of being the best player after Jimmy White to have not won a World Championship.
However, on several of those occasions, including both finals, he has boasted sizeable leads before squandering the opportunities to take the match and so was the case tonight in a thoroughly dramatic encounter.
Stevens has had an excellent season and looks assured of his place among the Top 16 in the world again, where he undoubtedly belongs, but this defeat could be detrimental to all the confidence that he has worked so hard on rebuilding throughout the campaign.
Meanwhile, Graeme Dott and Rory McLeod also progressed to the next round with victories over Mark King and Ricky Walden respectively.
McLeod’s passage means that he has reached the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time in his career. What a time to achieve that!
On a side note, so far I have predicted 12 out of 14 first round results correctly and with John Higgins and Mark Selby looking good in their matches it appears I’ll only be wrong twice.
So I beg the question….why do I not bet more?