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ALLEN GETS TOUGH TEST.

Byline: NEIL GOULDING

IRISH potter Mark Allen has admitted this year's Betfred.com World Championship first round draw could have been kinder to him.

The Antrim ace has been handed arguably the toughest opener at Sheffield, having been drawn out of the hat to play Welshman Matthew Stevens.

Two-time Crucible finalist Stevens is back to form and always seems to raise his game for snooker's biggest tournament, which runs from 16 April - 2 May.

But Allen is hungry to finally win his first ranking title and to build on his fine success in Sheffield during the past couple of seasons.

"I would have preferred someone different, but you've got to beat the best if you're going to win the tournament," admitted Allen.

"Matthew's a very good player and he's been climbing back up the rankings, so I know it's not going to be easy.

"But in saying that I've beaten him the last few times we've played each other, so I'm certainly not afraid of playing him.

"I tend to play better against the better players. No disrespect to some of the other players, but when you play a fellow big name it's not hard to get up for the match."

Allen has struggled to produce his best form this season, but in the last two seasons reached the semifinal and quarter-final stages at the Crucible.

In 2009 he beat triple world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan en route to the semi-finals where he lost 17-13 to eventual champion John Higgins.

And last season the world No 11 was cruelly edged 13-12 by eventual finalist Graeme Dott in a thrilling quarter-final showdown in Sheffield.

"I was unlucky last year not to get to the semi-finals, but Graeme played well and in the end a couple of balls made all the difference," added Allen.

"But for whatever reason I seem to raise my game for the Crucible.

"I was very nervous the first season I played there, but since then I've felt comfortable and really enjoy the atmosphere.

"I'm going there this year to win the tournament, I'm hopeful of doing well.

"It goes without saying that the Crucible is really special, doing well there would be a great way for me to finish my season."

Allen, rated at 16-1 to win the title by the tournament sponsors - is the only Irish player in this year's 17-day tournament, where the winner will pocket a pounds 250,000 prize.

But the Northern Ireland international isn't putting himself under any extra pressure to taste success with fellow Ulsterman Joe Swail having to qualify and former winner Crucible winner Ken Doherty, inset, h av i n g fallen at the final qualifying stage.

Dubliners Fergal O'Brien, Michael Judge and Joe Delaney also failed to qualify, as did Kilkenny prospect David Morris.

"I am surprised I'm the only player from Ireland in the tournament, but I'm not going to put myself under extra pressure because of that," said Allen.

"I'd love to do well for my country and for the Irish people, but anyone who knows me will know that I already put myself under enough pressure to be successful."

BETFRED.COM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP - First Round draw: Neil Robertson v Judd Trump, Marco Fu v Martin Gould, Graeme Dott v Mark King, Ali Carter v Dave Harold, Ding Junhui v Jamie Burnett, Peter Ebdon v Stuart Bingham, Stephen Hendry v Joe Perry, Mark Selby v Jimmy Robertson, Mark Williams v Ryan Day, Jamie Cope v Andrew Padgett, Mark Allen v Matthew Stevens, Stephen Maguire v Barry Hawkins, Shaun Murphy v Marcus Campbell, Ronnie O'Sullivan v Dominic Dale, Ricky Walden v Rory McLeod, John Higgins v Stephen Lee.

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CONFIDENT Mark Allen believes he can be World champion
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Words:621
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