MARK ALLEN won a snooker classic on Saturday to set up a final day showdown with Ricky Walden at the International Championship in China.
Allen’s 9-8 semi-final victory over Mark Williams was completed in thrilling fashion after a high quality battle brimming with attractive snooker.
In the end, Williams missed the last red along the top cushion and Allen cleared to the pink. The Northern Irishman had led 7-4 but looked certain to go 8-7 behind when he needed two snookers on the last red in frame 15.
But Williams hit the black in escaping and Allen cleared, including a superb double on the final black.
To his credit, Williams made an 86 break to force the decider. They each had chances before Allen took the last of his.
The average frame time for the contest was just under 13 minutes. Williams made three centuries and three half centuries, Allen one century and seven further breaks above 50.
There was so much to savour about this match. The quality of the potting and break-building was remarkable but so too was the attitude of the two players. This was all-on-the-line, high stakes snooker. It was positive, uncompromising and supremely eye-catching.
It was also all the better for being best of 17 frames, giving time for more twists and turns to play out.
For Williams there will be disappointment at the defeat but surely pride at such a magnificent performance in a big match. Reports of his snooker death have been greatly, in fact grievously, exaggerated.
For Allen there is the chance to win £125,000 in the final against Walden, who has also impressed with some all-out attacking snooker in his last two matches.
The finalists are in the same boat in as much as they have each won their two major ranking titles in China. Walden secured the 2008 Shanghai Masters and 2012 Wuxi Classic, Allen the Haikou World Open in 2012 and 2013. In addition Allen has won four European Tour titles and Walden one.
Allen will start favourite in part because of his record this season. This is his fourth final of the campaign. He is cueing quite beautifully and clearly imbued with great self belief. The Antrim man was disappointing against Stuart Bingham in the Shanghai Masters final last month and will want to make amends for that.
But Walden has every reason to be feeling confident too. In the last two rounds he has lost only three frames and has made more centuries – 7 – than anyone else in the event.
So Allen has won one of the best matches we are likely to see all season – but will still return home from China disappointed if the trophy isn’t in his suitcase.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.