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Higgins believes he is Master jinx

SNOOKER: World champion John Higgins admits he feels jinxed in the Masters after he crashed out in the first round to Mark Allen.

The Scot, provisional world number one and who won the Wembley event in 1999 and 2006, slipped 3-1 behind at the mid-session interval before he lost 6-3 to the Northern Irishman.

"I never seem to play well here," Higgins said. "I can only liken it to a golfer who doesn't play well on certain courses."

Allen will now face Mark Selby, who beat China's Ding Junhui 6-1, in the last eight.

In yesterday's other match Wales's Ryan Day whitewashed Joe Perry 6-0 to reach his first quarter-final in four attempts at the northwest London venue and will now meet Stephen Maguire.

Professional deals done for Irish four

CRICKET: Ireland will go to next year's World Cup only one man short of a fully professional team after revealing central contracts for Andre Botha, Kevin O'Brien, John Mooney and Paul Stirling.

Trent Johnston and Alex Cusack had their deals extended for another year and Cricket Ireland will now have first call on six players -- while three of the national squad employed by county sides in England, plus teacher Andy White, will also receive support.

The funding -- unequalled among non-Test playing nations -- is being provided by sponsors RSA Insurance, along with help from both governments and the International Cricket Council.

Federer and Serena top Oz Open seeds

TENNIS: Roger Federer and Serena Williams have been awarded the top seedings for the Australian Open, which starts next Monday.

Meanwhile, Robin Soderling and US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro have pulled out of the Kooyong Classic event, sparking doubts about their involvement in the Aussie Open.

NBA: Atlanta 94 Washington 82, Indiana 122 Phoenix 114, NY Knicks 93 Philadelphia 92, Boston 111 New Jersey 87, New Orleans 108 LA Clippers 94, San Antonio 109 Oklahoma City 108 (OT), LA Lakers 100 Dallas 95, Houston 120 Minnesota 114 (3OT), Denver 115 Orlando 97, Portland 120 Milwaukee 108, Miami 115 Golden State 102