UK snooker star Mark Allen is set to play against ex Reanne Evans

Cue the Battle of the Exes: Today will see one of the greatest grudge matches in sporting history – in one corner, UK snooker star Mark Allen… in the other, his ex-partner Reanne Evans. So will they both see red?

  • Snooker player Mark Allen will play his ex-partner Reanne Evans at British Open
  • The former romantic partners split acrimoniously in 2008 after three years
  • But reports of a dispute over child maintenance for their daughter, who is now aged 14, have left already frosty relations between Allen and Evans ice cold 

The world of snooker is famed for its legendary rivalries — Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins v Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis, and Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White v Stephen ‘Iceman’ Hendry, to name two.

But today, all eyes will be on Mark ‘The Pistol’ Allen and his first round adversary in the British Open at Leicester’s Morningside Arena — none other than 12-time women’s snooker world champion Reanne Evans, aka ‘The Ex’.

For not only will this be a crowd-pleasing Battle of the Sexes in a male-dominated sport — where women have only recently been allowed to compete at the top level with men — there could be a little private score-settling to add to the frisson of rivalry.

Former romantic partners, the pair split acrimoniously in 2008 after three years together. But reports of a dispute over child maintenance for their daughter, who is now aged 14, have left already frosty relations between Allen and Evans, both 35, ice cold.

Evans — who struggles to earn a living from snooker and won just £6,000 prize money for claiming her 12th women’s world championship in 2019 — is reported to be seeking an increase in the child maintenance Allen pays.

But today, all eyes will be on Mark ‘The Pistol’ Allen (pictured) and his first round adversary in the British Open at Leicester’s Morningside Arena — none other than 12-time women’s snooker world champion Reanne Evans, aka ‘The Ex’

This could be tricky as Northern Irishman Allen — who is ranked 12th in the world and has earned an estimated £3.3 million in snooker prize money — is currently in the process of getting divorced from wife Kyla McGuigan and declared himself bankrupt in May this year. (The couple, who married in 2013, also have a daughter.)

So that’s a cue for some very awkward moments today.

‘I honestly don’t think there has ever been a situation quite like this in sport ever at the top level,’ says Shaun Murphy, the world number 5. ‘Some people who aren’t snooker fans may tune in to watch the car crash unfold.’

Relations between Allen and Evans were given a blast of cold air in April at the World Championships at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, after Allen demanded that Evans — then working as a pundit for the BBC — be thrown out of a TV studio adjacent to his practice table because her presence was a ‘distraction’.

Event organisers controversially complied, and Evans, who could only return to the studio shortly before going on air, was said to have been left feeling upset and ’embarrassed’ by the episode.

Allen later said of the furore: ‘There have been cases of players asking for people to be removed when they’re practising ahead of a match. I’m not sure why there is such a fuss about this one.’

No wonder, then, that today’s face-off across the green baize is widely seen as a grudge match — with a capital ‘G’.

For not only will this be a crowd-pleasing Battle of the Sexes in a male-dominated sport — where women have only recently been allowed to compete at the top level with men — there could be a little private score-settling to add to the frisson of rivalry. Pictured: Reanne Evans

Former romantic partners, the pair split acrimoniously in 2008 after three years together. But reports of a dispute over child maintenance for their daughter, who is now aged 14, have left already frosty relations between Allen and Evans, both 35, ice cold. Pictured: Mark Allen and Reanne Evans with their daughter in 2007

Evans, who was awarded an MBE in 2020, is one of the first women to play on the main British Open tour; her No 1 ranking earned her a two-year professional card on the tour, along with Hong Kong player Ng On-yee.

Her inclusion, however, did not go down particularly well with her ex, who at the time sniffed: ‘I’m not really sure what the two women are going to bring.’

Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, insisted that both players ‘had provided reassurances that should they meet in a tournament they would conduct themselves professionally, and treat the opponent like any other player’.

Even so, there were gasps of astonishment when it was announced that the exes were pitted against each other in today’s first round, with some speculating that Allen might even withdraw from the tour completely rather than face his former lover across the table.

So one can only imagine the added psychological pressure on both, as they chalk up their cues to compete in what will be a historic match in more ways than one.

Last night, Allen was the clear favourite to win at odds of 80-1 on, with Evans at 14-1. But given the strained relations between the pair, Britain’s best woman snooker player must surely have an extra incentive to prove a point.

Reanne Evans, 35, who is a record 12-times women’s world champion, is set to battle Mark Allen who is the father of her child

If not to her ex, then perhaps to six-time world champion Steve Davis, who in 2014 told the BBC World Service’s Sports Hour that women lacked ‘that single-minded determination in something that must be said is a complete waste of time — trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick’.

Evans, who was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her daughter when she won her first women’s world champion title, winning just £800 compared with the men’s £200,000 prize pot, might not agree — and says it remains her dream to qualify to play in a World Snooker Championship at the Crucible one day.

Of that first major tournament win, she recalled: ‘Well, the bump was quite large but the doctors said if I felt all right there was no reason why I couldn’t play. A few shots were awkward. I could only just reach to break off! By the end my legs swelled up and I was completely shattered.’

Certainly, today’s match between the exes will be the first time Allen and Evans — who says she grew up in a snooker-loving household — have played against each other since happier days of old when, as a young couple, they used to practise together.

In an interview with the Mail in 2007, Evans, from Dudley in the West Midlands, talked about how tough it was to make a living as a woman in the sport and how her then partner, Mark, supported her ambitions.

While men’s snooker has attracted big sponsorship money and TV deals, women’s snooker has always been the poor relation fighting for recognition.

‘I’m lucky with Mark, he helps keep my spirits up. Sometimes it’s so hard to be motivated, you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. We do practise together, and, yes, I have beaten him,’ said Evans.

Allen later added: ‘We’re both really competitive. Whenever we play each other as boyfriend and girlfriend we take it very seriously.

‘I think Reanne will admit I’ve beaten her more times, but I’m not embarrassed to admit it, she has beaten me!

‘She always lets me remember it and winds me up, but we can both have a laugh about it.’

Whoever wins today’s match, it would seem a sure bet neither will be laughing, given the difficulties that followed their split 13 years ago.

Evans has spoken of the financial struggle as a single mother to reach the top of women’s snooker as an amateur. She once said: ‘I have won the ladies’ world title for the past nine years and got virtually nothing for it. The simple question was, can I keep going on like this, earning no money?’

Meanwhile, Allen has talked of the depression he suffered after their break-up, exacerbated by the pressures of professional snooker and the long tours that prevented him from seeing their daughter as much as he would have liked.

‘Speaking to a psychiatrist, I realised it’s been coming for a long time for me,’ Allen said after a World Championship comeback match ended a run of disappointing results in 2011. ‘It’s only really come to the fore in the last couple of months but at least now I’m trying to deal with it.

‘On and off the table I’m a fighter and I don’t want to give up on my life because it will affect everything. I was trying to shy away from it, closing up instead of opening up which I should have done. I’m starting to realise you can’t close up.

‘The difficulties in contact with our daughter are part of it, not a nice part of it but something that I’ve had to deal with. Obviously with me and Reanne not being together I knew I wasn’t going to see her as much but I didn’t realise it was going to be as hard as it is.’

There is no doubt that snooker fans will never have seen a match quite like this one. Allen will be in one tense corner, while Evans will be in hers. Each will have their supporters, but the big question is: who will their daughter want to win?

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