Mark Allen has refused to blame a heavy bout of coronavirus over the festive period for his first-round Masters defeat by John Higgins on Wednesday.
The Antrim player lost 6-5 to the four-time world champion in Milton Keynes.
“I don’t think there is any doubt the better player won the match. I don’t want to use that [Covid] as an excuse,” said the 34-year-old world number 10.
“Obviously having to isolate for 10 days wasn’t ideal leading up to one of the biggest tournaments of the year.”
He tested positive for Covid-19 heading into the New Year and was laid low for a number of days, before getting in some practice on his own.
Allen hauled his way back into contention from 5-3 down to set up a final frame decider against Higgins, but the Scot prevailed.
“I was very rusty with lack of match practice. Not being able to play anyone is probably the biggest hindrance,” explained the 2018 Masters champion.
“Playing on your own, you don’t know where your game is, and I hadn’t played anyone since I lost to Martin Gould in the Grand Prix nearly a month ago.
“I’m just struggling out there mentally at times, it’s just tough. I’ll try to remain patient and keep working hard.
“I was always chasing in the match against John – I didn’t play my best stuff. I battled hard and gave myself a chance but it would be nice to bring a bit of form to the table soon.”
‘Not a lot of fun coming to Milton Keynes all the time’
The Northern Ireland player is working hard to adjust to a new cue, having also previously changed his cue after winning the Champion of Champions event in November.
“The Welsh Open is next for me now and I need a good run in it to go the Players Championship and then hopefully the Tour Championship.
“I’ll look forward to the World Championship in Sheffield in April and hopefully there will be a turnaround and we’ll see a big crowd there because it’s not a lot of fun coming to Milton Keynes all the time, staring at four walls in a hotel room and then the same arena when you are out there.
“I know it’s the same for both players but some players prefer the crowd there more than others.”