first qualifying round

Full Marks for Williams and Allen at Ally Pally

There were impressive victories for both Mark Williams and Mark Allen as the opening day of the 2018 Masters didn’t disappoint at the Alexandra Palace on Sunday.

Williams knocked in a break of 135 in the first frame. Photo credit: World Snooker

Williams rode his luck a touch but in the end fought back superbly to deny world number one Mark Selby in a dramatic decider, avenging last year’s defeat that ended with a similar scoreline at the same stage.

Selby, who turned a 2-0 deficit into a 5-3 advantage, looked set to move into the quarter-finals at the expense of the Welshman but a cruel kick while in amongst the balls in the ninth frame proved to be a key moment that the three-time champion ultimately failed to recover from.

Williams, back in the world’s top 10 in the rankings after his success in the Northern Ireland Open this season, held his nerve together to record his first triumph in London since 2013.

It was a barnstorming start to the competition, which boasts only the very elite in the game, with a full house in to watch a terrific contest in the English capital.

Two-time champion Williams must now be considered as a credible dark horse for glory this week and could start his last eight tie as the favourite regardless of whether his opponent materialises to being Barry Hawkins or Kyren Wilson.

For Selby, it represents another disappointing early exit in a campaign full of them, albeit the world champion didn’t perform that badly and was a tad unlucky to be on the losing side of a classic.

Later on Sunday, Northern Ireland’s Allen compiled a brace of centuries as he outplayed debutant Luca Brecel for a 6-3 success.

The Belgian, with a high break of only 65 from the opening frame, did well to still be involved when he shared the first six frames but Allen finally pulled away for a deserved victory – sealing┬áhis progress with an excellent 120 at the end.

Allen, along with a few other notable names in this draw, would be placed high up in the debate of who is the best to have never claimed a major title.

The 31 year-old’s┬árun to the final of the UK Championship remains the only time that Allen has reached the showdown stage of proceedings with the silverware on the line from one of the three Triple Crown tournaments.

Allen undoubtedly has the talent to realise this kind of ambition but whether he possesses the kind of consistency necessary at this level remains undetermined.

Unfortunately for the three-time ranking event champion, Allen’s likely upcoming challenge is going to be Ronnie O’Sullivan, who hasn’t lost a Masters match since 2015. The “Rocket” plays Marco Fu on Tuesday.

Before that, there are a couple of other interesting fixtures scheduled to take place on Monday.

First, 2011 champion Ding Junhui meets Ryan Day, with the Welshman returning to the Masters line-up for the first time in eight years.

Both players have already enjoyed success from this term after respective triumphs in the World Open and Riga Masters from last summer.

Ding, though, has struggled badly since that strong outing in Yushan, partly due to an eye problem that kept him out of a few competitions but also simply because he is going through one of his typical lull periods.

Why Ding can’t maintain any kind of long-term consistency remains a mystery but it’s common for the Chinese number one to suddenly burst back into form and a win over Day could be just what the 30 year-old requires to reignite his season.

This will be Day’s first experience of playing at the Alexandra Palace and his poor record against Ding, with only four wins from their previous 14 encounters, ensures that the latter will be the favourite to advance.

The other clash of the second day is another potentially entertaining affair, this time between Judd Trump and Liang Wenbo.

Two attacking players with a flamboyant style, the match between this pair has the makings of being a humdinger with plenty of crashing long pots and sizable contributions expected.

Like Allen, Liang has only once featured in a major final while Trump’s 2011 UK success, ironically at the expense of the Antrim man, represents his sole top prize in one of the big three, so again there are questions to be answered with regard pedigree and fulfilment.

Trump was undoubtedly one of the players of 2017 with five ranking event finals to his name, including a brace of trophies collected, but his record in the Triple Crown tournaments was abysmal.

The Bristol potter actually has an inferior head-to-head record against Liang, who of course memorably claimed his one and only ranking title by beating Trump in the final of the 2016 English Open.

Both players have the ability to steamroll opponents but, in equal measure, both of them are prone to seismic collapses from seemingly commanding positions – so, although Trump will begin as the understandable front-runner, anything could happen here.

Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.

Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)

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