Mark Allen finds himself in a precarious position in the world rankings after losing to Ding Junhui in the first round of the Players Championship on Monday in Llandudno.
Allen may have broken his major duck earlier this season when he superbly captured a maiden Masters crown in January but the Northern Irishman has predominantly struggled in ranking events since and now an automatic place in the World Championship is in doubt.
The ranking points from his 2016 Players Championship triumph were deducted from his tally ahead of this year’s edition, in conjunction with the two-year rolling system that World Snooker operates for the Main Tour.
Allen has thus fallen to 16th in the provisional Race to the Crucible standings and his 6-2 defeat to Ding in north Wales has opened the door ajar for the chasing pack to usurp him with only the China Open remaining before the top 16 places at the Crucible are ultimately determined.
The in-form Ryan Day, winner of successive tournaments in the last couple of weeks, stands less than £5,000 shy of Allen in 17th place, although the 37 year-old hasn’t qualified for Beijing so this week represents the Welshman’s last opportunity to move up the list.
Day meets Mark Selby on Tuesday afternoon and it could hardly be a better time to face the world champion, whose struggles have continued deep into the campaign.
Stephen Maguire, who meets the defending champion Judd Trump on Wednesday, is another competitor in the race to upset the order while the likes of Stuart Bingham and Ali Carter, who are in the top 16 at present but haven’t qualified for the Players Championship, will be looking over their shoulders with some trepidation.
Allen only mustered one break above 50 as he looked every bit the player who had more than just this tournament on his mind and he could become the first Masters champion who is forced to qualify for Sheffield.
After dropping the opening frame, Ding took complete control of the contest by winning six out of the next seven with breaks of 81, 61, and 50 to move into the quarter-finals – where he could face the favourite Ronnie O’Sullivan.
In the other completed last 16 encounter, Shaun Murphy put his recent injury woes behind him by knocking out Kyren Wilson with a 6-3 victory over his fellow Englishman.
Murphy was forced to withdraw from the defence of his Gibraltar Open title and subsequently the Romanian Masters this month as he attempted to eradicate long-term issues with his back.
However, it was business as usual for the Champion of Champions as he reeled off runs of 115 and 133 to lead 3-1 at the mid-session interval, before buffering his advantage in the second half of the fixture with more attritional play.
On the second day of action, the affair between Selby and Day runs alongside another intriguing fixture as Mark Williams and Yan Bingtao clash in a repeat of the Northern Ireland Open final late last year.
Later in the evening, Luca Brecel will be hoping to rediscover some form following a dreadful spell against Neil Robertson while the “Rocket” launches his campaign against Graeme Dott.
Live coverage is on ITV4.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)