Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen will face each other in the second round of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s season so far
O’Sullivan is competing in the 2022 World Championship as the world number one, having recently reclaimed top spot in the rankings.
Rather than powering his way to the summit in style, O’Sullivan sort of stumbled there and took advantage of a period of poor form from Mark Selby.
O’Sullivan will have the £500,000 he earned from his 2020 Crucible success coming off his tally next month, so his latest spell in pole position may be short-lived.
All of that will depend, of course, on how he fares in what is his 30th appearance in Sheffield.
O’Sullivan is making a second attempt at capturing a seventh world crown that would take him alongside the great Stephen Hendry as the most prolific winner of the modern era.
It has been a solid season for the Rocket, with several decent performances including a come-from-behind victory over Neil Robertson to land the World Grand Prix in December.
Robertson has been a thorn in O’Sullivan’s side since then, though, and the pair could face off again in what would be a mouthwatering semi-final clash.
At 46, it continues to be remarkable how O’Sullivan can feature so consistently at the business end of competitions – even when he’s not producing his ultimate best.
Mark Allen’s season so far
When Mark Allen looks back on his career, the 2021/22 campaign will certainly stick out as a memorable one for various reasons.
The Pistol experienced an immense high on the table by triumphing in the Northern Ireland Open on home soil in Belfast.
But well-documented off-table troubles appeared to threaten his entire future in the game at one point.
Thankfully, those concerns seem to have passed and Allen can refocus his exploits on the green baize again.
The 36 year-old also reached the final of the Championship League and the semi-finals of the German Masters, helping him to maintain his membership among the top 16 in the world rankings.
Allen has the talent to threaten for a world title, but aside from reaching the semi-final early on in his career, the Crucible has not been a happy stomping ground.
What happened in the last 32?
Both Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Allen had perfect opening ties in many respects.
They were both nicely tested, but not too strenuously in any way that could have a lasting impact on their stamina in Sheffield.
O’Sullivan fought back from 3-0 down to beat David Gilbert 10-5, compiling a hat-trick of century breaks as he tied Hendry’s record of 70 match victories at the Crucible.
Allen, meanwhile, was given a stern examination in his first session with Scott Donaldson, before pulling away in the second session for a 10-6 success.
O’Sullivan and Allen first faced each other in a competitive setting at this same stage of the World Championship 13 years ago.
On that occasion, the Pistol memorably outshot the Rocket for a famous 13-11 triumph that knocked out the then reigning champion.
Their head-to-head reads 6-4 in favour of O’Sullivan overall, but Allen won the last time they met in what was a fiery and somewhat ill-tempered Champion of Champions duel in 2020.
Allen has only been beyond the last 16 once since 2011, and he’ll have to perform at his best if he wants to improve on that disappointing record.
The Antrim man is more than capable of mixing it with the very best in the world, but his consistency is not up to scratch – especially over a long distance.
O’Sullivan has appeared in a good mood at this event so far, and that’s often half the battle for the Englishman.
A documentary crew is following the six-time world champion, and ever the showman O’Sullivan will be keen on providing the perfect ending to their film.
More difficult fixtures to overcome may lie ahead, but this encounter should turn out okay for the world number one.
Prediction: Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-9 Mark Allen
Friday, April 22nd – 10am and 7pm
Saturday, April 23rd – 2:30pm
Featured photo credit: WST