Masters champion Mark Allen suffered a shock first round exit at the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix in Preston, following a 4-3 defeat to Xiao Guodong.
The Antrim potter enjoyed the finest moment of his career last month, as he lifted a Triple Crown title for the first time by winning the Masters at Alexandra Palace. However, Allen now needs to put in some strong showings in ranking tournaments for the remainder of the season.
He currently occupies 16th position in the race to the Crucible, with his prize money from winning the 2016 Players Championship set to come off of his tally next month. Allen needs to remain in that top 16 to avoid having to qualify for the World Championship.
2013 Shanghai Masters finalist Xiao is enjoying his best campaign in several seasons, having reached two ranking quarter-finals. That has helped him to qualify for this week’s event, which involves the top 32 players on the one-year ranking list. Xiao defeated world number one Mark Selby at the recent German Masters. However, he needed an impressive fightback to claim his latest scalp this afternoon.
It had looked as if the Chinese potter was heading for an early exit when Allen made breaks of 86 and 51 to storm into a 3-0 lead. However, Xiao showed his resolve by winning four frames on the bounce, with breaks of 89, 78 and 71, to reach the last 16.
John Higgins won a thrilling clash with Ali Carter 4-3 to book his place against Xiao in the last 16.
The four-time World Champion enhanced his already strong head to head record against Carter and has now won 13 of their 18 professional meetings. Higgins gave himself an opportunity for a 147 in the second frame, after potting 12 reds with blacks. However, he eventually broke down on 96.
Higgins said: “I’m delighted to have won because I was away for a week’s holiday with the family after the Masters, as I knew there were a big couple of months coming up. I’ve not really touched my cue for two or three weeks. That win has given me a bit of confidence for what is ahead.”
Stephen Maguire secured an important victory in his bid to gain an automatic Crucible spot for the World Championship, whitewashing China Championship semi-finalist Li Hang 4-0.
Maguire currently lies in 18th place in the race to the Crucible, but he knows that a string of good results and qualification for the Ladbrokes Players Championship in Llandudno, which hosts the 16 best placed players on the one-year money list, could prove to be pivotal in his bid for Crucible qualification.
The Scot matched compatriot Higgins’ 147 attempt, potting all blacks and reds before missing on 96 in the last frame as he ran out a comfortable winner.
It wasn’t all good news for the Scottish contingent in Preston, as Joe Perry defeated 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott 4-2.
Dott was aiming to reach a third consecutive ranking final this week after appearing in back-to-back showpiece ties at the German Masters and the Shoot Out.
However, Perry looked the sharper this afternoon and composed runs of 62 and 60 on his way to the victory.