MARK Allen insisted he had emerged from “probably the best match I have ever been involved in” against Mark Williams to reach yet another final in a stirring season.
The 28-year-old from Antrim made it four showpiece occasions from his last four tournaments contested with a thrilling 9-8 victory at the International Championship.
Williams roared back from 7-4 adrift to force a decider in Chengdu – and looked set for a first big final in over three years before leaving the last red in the jaws of the pocket.
And that let in Allen, whose 26 clearance to the pink was even more important than the runs of 92, 71, 52, 54, 105, 55, 77 and 67 that preceded it and set up a final against Ricky Walden.
World No22 Williams made three centuries himself and other big breaks in an event that had already seen him end a 12-year losing streak against Ronnie O’Sullivan in ranking tournaments.
Allen said: “It was probably the best match I have ever been involved in – we both played well and it was a shame there had to be a loser.
“I have been involved in matches where I have played well, or my opponent, but very rarely both of us virtually all the way through. Today was one of those rare occasions.
“Mark was a couple of balls away from winning and I would be sitting here as the loser, but I knew he would go for that red down the cushion.
“I am very relieved to be through, and Mark showed why he has won multiple world titles and so many other ranking events. With European Tour events it is now four finals in a row for me.
“It felt like there was a break every frame, even if there wasn’t – we were both scoring very heavily, and to win 9-8 on the past pink doesn’t happen that often.
“I knew when he beat Ronnie O’Sullivan here he must be playing well, but I didn’t realise how well. He was playing so aggressively and going for everything.
“I want another title but Ricky is playing well and it will be tough. I let myself down in the final in Shanghai five weeks ago and don’t want that happening again.
“There was a doubled black I got to make it 8-7 and stop the rot after three lost frames, in a very big frame in which I had been two snookers down.
“Doubles aren’t my favourite and that is right up there with the best shots I have played.”
Allen’s win also means Ali Carter now claims the final spot in next week’s Champion of Champions in Coventry, with final threat Williams having been removed.
Two-time Crucible king Williams, 39, and as ever gracious in defeat in spite of the agonising manner of the loss, said: “I can’t grumble, you won’t see too many better matches than that. I have played really well, the best for years, but Mark played very well too.
“In the end in the decider it is a fraction of an inch that has stopped me getting to the final, with that last red wobbling in the jaws of the pocket and staying there.
“I’m sure I would have won if that had gone in but it must have been a great match to watch as it was to play in, there were big breaks in virtually every frame.
“It is certainly one of the best matches I have been involved in for a long time.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos