For a man nicknamed ‘The Pistol’, Mark Allen’s season has been one of misfire.
Here is a straight-talking bloke from Antrim in Northern Ireland who admits the swagger surrounding his labour of love has been shot to pieces.
The world number 11 and former world amateur champion Allen, arrives at the ultimate event in snooker with his game in a parlous state.
A season spent shooting himself in the foot has left the Pistol’s “confidence on the floor”.
In 13 ranking events played so far, Allen has tanked: the highlight being a quarter-final place at the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast last November, a tournament where he thinks he played “probably the worst snooker of my season” in losing 5-2 to Anthony Hamilton.
Allen opens his campaign against English qualifier Jimmy Robertson, the world number 39, on Sunday evening. He is a 40-1 shot for the title in his 11th straight appearance here.
The odds sound charitable when you listen to him discuss his malaise on the baize. Yet while Allen has been misfiring, he has not washed up at the Crucible ready to be pistol-whipped, so to speak.
“It is different coming here for me this year because my form has been terrible whereas the past five or six years I’ve come here on the back of some sort of success and a tournament win,” Allen tells Eurosport.
“It is completely different this year. Even in Northern Ireland, I probably played the worst snooker of my season.
“I scraped through to the last eight for the fans really. Nobody expects me to do well here looking at me from the outside.
I’m struggling for wins, struggling for match wins. I come here with little expectation, but maybe that is a good thing.
“I usually turn up expecting to do well, and end up disappointed. Yet we all know this game can do special things to you.
“And this is a special place that can bring out the best in you.
“Every year when you come here, it gives you goosebumps.”
Allen's best run in these parts was losing an epic semi-final 17-13 to four-times champion John Higgins in 2009. It was a tournament where he enjoyed a 13-11 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last eight. He has also compiled two runs to the quarter-finals in 2010 and 2011.
If Bristol’s Judd Trump is rated as the best player in the field never to have won the World Championship, Allen, a left-handed strategist renowned for his aggressive play, can’t be far behind.
He is 17th on the all-time list of century makers with a growing haul of 306 with ranking event victories at the 2012 and 2013 World Open, and last year’s Players Championship.
For a figure who has had to battle the black dog of depression, Allen is well aware of the need for a positive mental outlook.
“If I knew what was wrong, I’d pinpoint it and work on it. I’m doing more hours of practice than ever,” conceded Allen.
“I’ve been tinkering with stuff over the past two months because I was on the floor confidence-wise.
“Two weeks ago, I was still on the floor, but I feel I’ve found something in practice and I’ve been playing some good snooker.
“I remember the match with John here like it was yesterday. I lost the second session 7-1, and I played really well. John played snooker from the Gods, and I was 13-3 down.
“I went out, and was aggressive in the third session. It was the best match I’ve been involved in even though I lost because John was completely gone. I got it back to 15-12, and 16-13.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: Allen: I’m in worst form of my life, but perfection isn’t needed to conquer world