Mark Allen successfully defended his Northern Ireland Open crown on Sunday with a 9-4 victory over Zhou Yuelong in Belfast.
The 36 year-old reeled off the last eight frames of the final to see off Zhou’s challenge and seal a seventh career ranking title.
In addition to earning a champion’s cheque worth £80,000, Allen also receives the final invitation to the upcoming Champion of Champions in Bolton.
It caps a terrific few weeks for the Antrim man, who delighted his legion of home supporters by lifting the Alex Higgins Trophy aloft for the second time.
Allen played some excellent snooker at the British Open a few weeks ago only to come up short of glory at the final hurdle to Ryan Day.
At the beginning of this title decider, it appeared as though the same kind of nerves were going to get the better of him again.
But having trailed 4-1 at one point, Allen concluded the first session with parity restored and the knowledge that his opponent had missed a golden opportunity to stamp his authority on the affair.
“I felt that if I could nick the eighth frame to go 4-4, he would really struggle mentally,” Allen said following his triumph.
“I think he lost it in that session rather than me winning it. I felt he would rue his missed chances. After hanging on and getting out 4-4, I felt like I’d won.”
Allen started the Northern Ireland Open final confidently with a break of 57 helping him to take the opening frame.
But Zhou responded with a run of 56 followed by a terrific 135 century break to win his first ever frames in a ranking event final.
The Chinese cueist was competing at this stage of a competition for the third time but had lost his previous two finals without getting on the scoreboard.
The 24 year-old took scrappier fourth and fifth frames to seemingly ascertain control of the contest and leave the crowd fearing a repeat defeat for Allen like the one he suffered in Milton Keynes at the start of the month.
But contributions of 68 and 55 saw the favourite fight back to level at 4-4, and he took a vital first frame of the second session to march in front and never look back.
Zhou had missed his chance, and Allen increased his cushion with a string of helpful breaks before a magnificent 109 in the 13th frame completed the double.
Allen will head to the Champion of Champions and the UK Championship soon after as the man in form this season.
Twelve months ago, he was battling in the courts with legal and bankruptcy concerns affecting his life away from the baize.
Fast forward to now and the Pistol is in a much better state of mind – clearly also benefiting from an improved health regime since the World Championship that has seen him shed five stone in weight.
Allen has been among the most talented players in the world for years, but his biggest problem was an inability to turn hot streaks of form into sustained consistency and silverware.
It will be interesting to see if he can support this superb success with more later in the season.
Featured photo credit: WST