Any idea that the most extraordinary grudge match in snooker history wouldn’t live up to the pre-match billing was dispelled before a ball was even pocketed. Snooker has had its fair share of highly anticipated clashes lately, but none have had a backdrop and subplot like this. In the end, the match delivered as much as the drama did.
How Barry Hearn, the great snooker supremo and lover of all publicity-generating off-mat action, must have smiled when Reanne Evans turned down Mark Allen’s offer for a handshake before their first match broke round to the British Open in Leicester. There is, of course, a lot more to this story than just ranking points, cash prizes, or one-on-one encounters on the table, but even that lit up the tactile paper in a way that no one does. ‘could have imagined.
Allen and Evans being reunited was by far the first-round draw, due to the fact that they had a relationship that acrimoniously ended in 2008 and they have a 14-year-old daughter together. Surely there has never been a match as personal as this in any sport, let alone snooker.
Yet it goes even further than that. Allen never imagined he would be in this situation earlier this year, when he had Evans removed from the Crucible training area as he warmed up for a game and Evans worked as an expert. . Perhaps it was that moment that helped make Evans the big fan favorite on Monday night.
Some had called Evans a “bitter ex-partner” of the world No. 12 as the match approached. But it does a huge service to her contribution to snooker, especially the women’s game, where she is a 12-time world champion and recently received a two-year tour card on the professional circuit as a deserved reward for her dominance.
Her rowdy fan group made it look like a world championship game at times, with vivid memories of the kind of loud support Steve Davis received at the Crucible in the 1980s. She even had to tell them to calm down after the second frame here, when she tied the game at 1-1 after Allen took the first frame.
But in the end, it was Allen who had the final say – although at one point he was watching Evans’ barrel of elimination. After taking a 2-1 lead in that best-of-five game, Evans then came close to a single pot of victory. She had a 60-0 lead and needed one more red to grab the headlines. But it wobbled desperately in the pocket jaw.
To Allen’s credit, the ensuing clearance to send the game to a decisive frame was of supreme quality. He then kept his cool in the decider, not giving Evans a snort with a break of 68. She fought in hopes of claiming the three snookers needed to create the slice of snooker history that had seemed inevitable a few minutes earlier. But it was ultimately in vain. Unsurprisingly, there was also no handshake at the end of the game.
You thought if Evans had emerged victorious here there would have been some crazy celebrations. Maybe not from her, but from those who were so anxious to see her be on the safe side of this remarkable personal battle.
Allen, however, was not interested in it. He, you could tell, was just relieved to be in the next round and maybe put this thing to bed. If they do meet again at some point in the future, you can bet that he will have to do this all over again.