Mark Allen beat Ben Mertens 4-0 as the venue stages of the Northern Ireland Open commenced on Sunday in Belfast.
The Antrim man has emerged with the Alex Higgins Trophy on home soil at the Waterfront Hall in the last two editions of the ranking event.
Allen wasn’t at his free-scoring best, but breaks of 54 and 55 helped him to a whitewash win over the young Belgian.
It brings the Pistol’s streak of match victories in the Home Nations series event to an impressive 15.
With so many star names not competing in the Northern Ireland Open this year, Allen will be fancying his chances of securing a rare hat-trick in the same tournament in consecutive seasons.
The last player to achieve that feat was Judd Trump, when he strung together three Northern Ireland Open crowns on the trot between 2018 and 2020.
Trump is bidding for a different hat-trick this week with the 34 year-old attempting to become just the fifth player in history to win three ranking events in a row on the calendar.
Successes in the English and Wuhan Opens this month already mean that Trump is the most in-form competitor on the circuit at present.
A pre-tournament favourite, the world number three lost the first frame to Jenson Kendrick in his held-over first-round fixture before reeling off the following four for a routine triumph.
Among the other high-profile contenders to make it through their opening tests in the competition were Mark Williams and Shaun Murphy.
Williams, a champion six years ago, overcame Tian Pengfei 4-1 while Murphy was made to work harder for his 4-2 defeat of Ryan Thomerson.
Neil Robertson, Jack Lisowski, David Gilbert, and Anthony McGill also progressed – the latter courtesy of a tight 4-3 victory over Jimmy White.
However, there were several upsets with Kyren Wilson, Robert Milkins, and Ryan Day all exiting at the first hurdle.
Wilson’s recent struggles continued with a 4-3 reverse against Sam Craigie, and there were deciding-frame losses for Milkins and Day against Cao Yupeng and Ma Hailong respectively.
Elsewhere, Ricky Walden, Gary Wilson, and Rory McLeod all progressed to the last 64.
McLeod was a late replacement for the world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan, who withdrew on the eve of the competition.
Local amateur Robbie McGuigan was the day’s other winner thanks to a 4-1 beating of Muhammad Asif.
On Monday, the remaining round-of-128 fixtures will be completed with European Masters champion Barry Hawkins in action against Elliot Slessor.
A busy schedule will see several encounters from the second round also taking place.
Northern Ireland Open Draw
Round of 128 (bo7)
Mark Allen 4-0 Ben Mertens
Andres Petrov 4-3 Sanderson Lam
Graeme Dott 4-0 Oliver Lines
David Grace 0-4 Zihao Xing
Ricky Walden 4-2 Ben Woollaston
Allan Taylor 1-4 Dominic Dale
Stuart Bingham 4-3 Ashley Hugill
Xu Si 4-2 Alexander Ursenbacher
Mohamed Ibrahim 2-4 Dean Young
Matthew Selt 4-1 Andy Lee
Liam Graham 0-4 Jackson Page
Jack Lisowski 4-1 Rebecca Kenna
David Lilley 1-4 Aaron Hill
Fan Zhengyi 4-2 Liu Hongyu
Dylan Emery 4-3 Martin Gould
Robert Milkins 3-4 Cao Yupeng
Shaun Murphy 4-2 Ryan Thomerson
Marco Fu 4-2 Jamie Jones
Joe O’Connor 2-4 Zak Surety
Andrew Higginson 2-4 Sean O’Sullivan
Ryan Day 3-4 Ma Hailong
Martin O’Donnell 4-3 Daniel Wells
Chris Wakelin 4-0 Anthony Hamilton
Alfie Burden 4-3 Mostafa Dorgham
Rod Lawler 4-0 Baipat Siripaporn
Zhou Yuelong 2-4 Stan Moody
Andrew Pagett 3-4 Lukas Kleckers
Gary Wilson 4-3 Louis Heathcote
Jamie Clarke 4-3 Alfie Davies
Xiao Guodong 1-4 Yuan Sijun
Jordan Brown 4-2 Stuart Carrington
Neil Robertson 4-1 Wu Yize
Judd Trump 4-1 Jenson Kendrick
Adam Duffy 1-4 Julien Leclercq
Pang Junxu 2-4 Ian Burns
Liam Highfield 3-4 Ken Doherty
Anthony McGill 4-3 Jimmy White
Robbie McGuigan 4-1 Muhammad Asif
Noppon Saengkham 4-0 Himanshu Jain
Manasawin Phetmalaikul 3-4 Barry Pinches
Mink Nutcharut 2-4 Michael White
Joe Perry 4-2 Ishpreet Singh Chadha
Long Zehuang 1-4 Anton Kazakov
Hossein Vafaei 4-1 Mark Joyce
James Cahill 4-1 Duane Jones
Stephen Maguire 4-3 Fergal O’Brien
Reanne Evans 0-4 Hammad Miah
Kyren Wilson 3-4 Sam Craigie
Mark Williams 4-1 Tian Pengfei
Liam Pullen 1-4 Robbie Williams
Si Jiahui 1-4 Zhang Anda
John Astley 0-4 Rory Thor
Barry Hawkins 4-1 Elliot Slessor
Andy Hicks 2-4 Jiang Jun
Jimmy Robertson 4-2 Sydney Wilson
Peng Yison 4-1 He Guoqiang
Matthew Stevens 4-2 Stephen Hendry
David Gilbert 4-1 Joel Connolly
Lyu Haotian 4-1 Ashley Carty
Tom Ford 4-0 Haydon Pinhey
Scott Donaldson 0-4 Mark Davis
Jak Jones 4-0 Oliver Brown
Victor Sarkis 2-4 Ross Muir
Rory McLeod 4-0 Ahmed Aly Elsayed
Round of 64 (bo7)
Mark Allen 3-4 Andres Petrov
Graeme Dott 1-4 Xing Zihao
Ricky Walden 4-3 Dominic Dale
Stuart Bingham 4-1 Xu Si
Dean Young 3-4 Matthew Selt
Jackson Page 1-4 Jack Lisowski
Aaron Hill 4-1 Fan Zhengyi
Dylan Emery 4-3 Cao Yupeng
Shaun Murphy 4-3 Marco Fu
Zak Surety 3-4 Sean O’Sullivan
Ma Hailong 1-4 Martin O’Donnell
Chris Wakelin 4-2 Alfie Burden
Rod Lawler 1-4 Stan Moody
Lukas Kleckers 1-4 Gary Wilson
Jamie Clarke 0-4 Yuan Sijun
Jordan Brown 4-1 Neil Robertson
Judd Trump 4-0 Julien Leclercq
Ian Burns 4-2 Ken Doherty
Anthony McGill 4-3 Robbie McGuigan
Noppon Saengkham 4-1 Barry Pinches
Michael White 3-4 Joe Perry
Anton Kazakov 0-4 Hossein Vafaei
James Cahill 2-4 Stephen Maguire
Hammad Miah 2-4 Sam Craigie
Mark Williams 2-4 Robbie Williams
Zhang Anda 4-1 Rory Thor
Barry Hawkins 4-1 Jiang Jun
Jimmy Robertson 4-0 Peng Yisong
Matthew Stevens 3-4 David Gilbert
Lyu Haotian 4-3 Tom Ford
Mark Davis 2-4 Jak Jones
Ross Muir 3-4 Rory McLeod
Round of 32 (bo7)
Andres Petrov 1-4 Xing Zihao
Ricky Walden 4-1 Stuart Bingham
Matthew Selt 1-4 Jack Lisowski
Aaron Hill 4-0 Dylan Emery
Shaun Murphy 4-0 Sean O’Sullivan
Martin O’Donnell 1-4 Chris Wakelin
Stan Moody 4-2 Gary Wilson
Yuan Sijun 4-2 Jordan Brown
Judd Trump 4-2 Ian Burns
Anthony McGill 0-4 Noppon Saengkham
Joe Perry 4-3 Hossein Vafaei
Stephen Maguire 4-2 Sam Craigie
Robbie Williams 4-1 Zhang Anda
Barry Hawkins 4-1 Jimmy Robertson
David Gilbert 4-1 Lyu Haotian
Jak Jones 3-4 Rory McLeod
Round of 16 (bo7)
Xing Zihao 1-4 Ricky Walden
Jack Lisowski 4-1 Aaron Hill
Shaun Murphy 2-4 Chris Wakelin
Stan Moody 2-4 Yuan Sijun
Judd Trump 4-3 Noppon Saengkham
Joe Perry 3-4 Stephen Maguire
Robbie Williams 0-4 Barry Hawkins
David Gilbert 4-0 Rory McLeod
Ricky Walden 1-5 Jack Lisowski
Chris Wakelin 5-2 Yuan Sijun
Judd Trump 5-4 Stephen Maguire
Barry Hawkins 5-4 David Gilbert
Jack Lisowski 1-6 Chris Wakelin
Judd Trump 6-4 Barry Hawkins
Chris Wakelin 3-9 Judd Trump
Featured photo credit: WST