MARK Allen is on course to defend his Haikou World Open title after taking a 6-3 lead against Matthew Stevens at the halfway mark in this year’s final.
Allen, who won the title last year after thrashing Stephen Lee 10-1, was looking set for another thumping win in a final when he led the Welshman 4-0 at the mid-session interval before Stevens fought back after the restart.
The final got off to an entertaining start as the Ulsterman came back from 44 points behind to win the opening frame thanks to a brilliant double shot on the final brown.
And there was cause for concern for Stevens, playing in first major final in more than four years, after a half century break in frame two and a break of 93 helped Allen to a 3-0 lead.
Things were to get worse for the Welshman in the next frame when he broke down while on a run of 49 which, like in frame one, led Allen to counter-attack for a 4-0 lead.
Stevens managed to stop the rot after the interval when breaks of 49 and 67 gave him a much-needed first frame on the board.
And the world number 13 began to hit his stride when he fired in the first century break of the match of 112 to reduce his deficit to 4-2.
But the match went back to its original nature as Allen dominated the next frame before a break of 100 in the eighth restored his four-frame advantage at 6-2.
Stevens though kept his hopes of victory alive when he came out on top in a scrappy ninth frame to close the session trailing by three frames. A good start is needed when the players return for the tournament’s finale.