MARK ALLEN kept his hopes of a hat-trick of Haikou World Open titles alive on Friday as he moved into the semi-finals in China.

World No12 Allen, 28, beat four-time world champion John Higgins 5-3 on Hainan Island.

And with other results that also saw Allen ensure he reaches April’s World Championship automatically as a top-16 seed yielding a huge extra bonus.

The only two ranking titles of his career have come in this event for the left-hander from Antrim, and this will be his first major semi-final of a patchy campaign.

Allen, who now faces Shaun Murphy for a place in the final of the £480,000 event, has now won 15 matches in a row in this tournament.

He said: “People say it is just two matches now for a hat-trick – but they will be two very tough matches.

“I am looking forward to it, I have done well here the past two years and I would love to keep that going but I will have to play as well again if not better from now on.

“And of course anything I can do not to have to qualify at the Crucible helps me. I don’t want to have to play a qualifier or as importantly a top-16 player in the first round.

“It is not impossible to win the world title as a qualifier, but it would be a lot tougher. Anyway, I am not safe yet.”

Shortly after, though, he was safe as Graeme Dott suffered a cruel late body-blow against Murphy.

Murphy helped Allen’s Crucible cause by knocking out his closest rival Dott 5-4 in an incredible match – fluking the final black for victory.

In the battle of former world champions, world No9 Murphy, led 3-0 and then by 38 points with 35 left in the decider.

But after he went in-off Dott blew a chance to clear, missing the final pink, before Murphy’s huge slice of luck.

Murphy, 31, said: “I am shaking, literally shaking. The last frame was weird but it was a great match and we both played well.

“I had luck early on, Graeme played so well to get ahead – then when it got to a decider we both had chances.

“And then I have had the biggest piece of luck to fluke the black, and I am embarrassed. It looks easy when you watch but this was a big match and nothing was easy, we both felt the pressure.

“Mark Allen has forgotten how to lose here and not lost for two years and is a favourite, going for three on the spin. I will have to play to have any chance.

“To win any week is a major achievement, I got some confidence winning in Poland but this is a full world ranking tournament. I make Mark Allen the man to beat.”

Dott’s unlucky loss after such a battling fight-back means he faces a qualifier to be at the Crucible, and will represent a nasty opening match for one of the seeds if he prevails.