John Higgins was left to rue “another bad defeat” after losing out to Mark Allen in a first-round deciding frame at the Masters.
Despite leading 3-1 and having multiple chances to extend his advantage, the Wizard lost five of the next seven frames as he suffered a record-breaking 15th first-round exit at snooker’s most prestigious invitational event.
It spelt another painful defeat for Higgins, who was once again unable to convert a positive start into victory this season.
Judd Trump overturned 4-2 and 5-2 deficits to edge the four-time World champion out in a deciding frame in the semi-finals of the European Masters and English Open respectively, with Ronnie O’Sullivan achieving the same feat from 5-2 adrift in the Shanghai Masters quarter-finals.
Higgins also led 3-1 against Noppon Saengkham in the Scottish Open semi-finals before Christmas, only for the resurgent Thai to reel off five successive frames after their mid-session interval to prevail.
The Scotsman’s pain at enduring a similar fate against Allen was evident.
“At 3-1 in front, I’ve had chances in the next two or three frames,” he said. “You don’t normally get as many chances against Mark as I got today. I just never took advantage.
“From 3-1, to go 5-3 behind is really poor. I managed to try and stick in there, but Mark showed his class in the end. He potted a great red in the middle pocket and made a fabulous break, so every credit to him.
“I don’t know where to go. I play well to a certain point and then I just go missing and play so many bad shots. It’s just another bad defeat.”
Higgins hit breaks of 83 and 80 for a 3-1 lead, but failed to convert 43-0 and 44-0 advantages in two of the next three frames and squandered an opportunity to clear in the other when he missed the brown on 41 from 54-12 down.
Although he dug deep after Allen hit a 123 with runs of 58 and 61 to force a decider, a missed red paved the way for his opponent to seal victory with 86.
But despite his win, the Pistol also empathised with the 48-year-old, who he is confident can return to his brilliant best with the right formula.
“It’s weird watching John. He’s a really good guy. I get on really well with him,” Allen said. “He looks like someone who’s just struggling to get over the line and in those closer moments.
“If he just believes in himself a bit more, he’ll be winning tournaments again – no doubt about that.
“He’s too good to be talking the way he is because he’s one of the all-time greats. Anybody would love to have a career like John, but it’s sad seeing him the way he is now.
“I do feel for him because it’s not nice whenever you’re losing a lot of close games in a row.”
Victory for Allen was his first at the Masters since lifting the trophy in 2018, thus ending a five-match losing streak in the event.
While the world number three acknowledged the need to improve, he feels the ability to achieve positive results when not producing his optimum performance levels optimises the strides he has made in recent years.
“It was just nice to get over the line because it wasn’t pretty today; we both had a lot of chances,” he added. “Because I’ve lost so many first-round matches [at the Masters], it meant so much more to me.
“I didn’t perform today. It was nice when that chance came and I made the most of it, but on another day, I’m going home.
“I know I need to play much better than that, but the good thing is I’m still competing in nearly every tournament I go to without having to play well. That’s something I never had.
“There’s no doubt that when I play well, I win tournaments. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, I just believe in myself. But now I feel like I can win without playing well.”