Allen and Walden Set for International Showdown

Today marks the final of the International Championship between Mark Allen and Ricky Walden in Chengdu.

Allen beat Walden in the 2011 UK Championship semi-finals - photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.
Allen beat Walden in the 2011 UK Championship semi-finals – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

The pair will fight it out for the fourth ranking event title of the campaign with a neat £125,000 top prize for the winner.

Both players couldn’t have played in more contrasting semi-finals to reach Sunday’s showdown.

Walden comfortably dismantled the challenge of Robert Milkins in a one-sided contest on Friday that ended 9-2 in favour of the 31 year-old.

In contrast, Northern Ireland’s Allen emerged from arguably the match of 2014 in Saturday’s humdinger clash with two-time world champion Mark Williams.

From the very opening frame, where Allen compiled a run of 92, the encounter was littered with sizable contributions, good safety and enthralling fluency.

The duo produced four century breaks between them, a flurry of other big breaks and some incredible last gasp drama to give this year’s edition a much needed boost in terms of entertainment.

In a tie that lasted under just four hours in total, Allen eventually emerged victorious in a 9-8 belter, clearing to the pink to seal the narrowest of triumphs after his opponent had agonisingly rattled, what was effectively a match-ball red, down the cushion.

Both players could only smile at the handshake, though, and stated after that it was definitely one of the best matches they have ever been involved in.

For the fans, it was enthralling stuff and it was good to at least finally see a decent enough crowd in prior to the final.

In truth, though, the attendances this week have been nothing short of dreadful and the organisers must act on this if the competition is to return to Chengdu in 12 months time.

By all accounts, it is highly unlikely that there is a lack of interest, rather that the regular Joe is being priced out of it with extortionate ticket prices – as well as there being reports that the venue isn’t even actually in the city itself.

Before this week began, many media outlets, including here on SnookerHQ, were billing the International Championship as the fourth major behind the World Championship, UK Championship and the Masters.

However, any such notion has been firmly dismissed for me this week with what has been a disappointing occasion overall with muted atmospheres throughout.

Most in the sport believe that at this stage China deserve to boast a major and, with the lucrative prize fund and longer format, this appeared like the most obvious candidate.

But the likes of the China Open and Shanghai Masters, more established events on the calendar, serve up a more enjoyable setting for the sport’s stars to strut their stuff.

Nevertheless, winning the International Championship for either Allen or Walden will prove to be a notable feather in one their caps.

Both competitors have a brace of ranking event successes to their name and they have each come in China, so one good record in the Far East is about to come to an end.

Allen must start as the marginal favourite following a formidable run of form that has seen the 28 year-old reach the final of his last four tournaments – capturing the Paul Hunter Classic title in between runner-up spots in Riga and Shanghai.

Either way, though, it promises to be a pretty close affair with both players relatively evenly matched and with a similar degree of experience on the bigger stages.

Hopefully, the tournament can conclude on an exciting note.

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