Reanne Evans: Ladies' champion to face men in world qualifiers
Reanne Evans has accepted an invitation to take on the men in qualifying for the World Snooker Championship.
The 10-times ladies' champion is now three wins away from being the first woman to play in the tournament's main televised stages at the Crucible.
"It shows everybody can get a chance if they work hard enough to achieve their dreams," Evans, 29, told BBC Sport.
Evans, who says women are banned from playing in some snooker clubs, could face an ex-world champion next month.
Snooker's governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), has revamped the qualifying rules for its showpiece tournament, which take place in Sheffield from 18 April to 4 May, in an effort to broaden its appeal.
All players seeded outside the top 16 will start in the same round, with a total of 128 players competing in the qualifiers.
This has opened up extra places, which will be given to any former world champions who want to enter, plus leading amateur players at the discretion of the WPBSA.
"I'm thrilled that I've been invited. It's fantastic news," said amateur player Evans, who in 2013 became the first female qualifier for the main stages of a ranking event.
"You are obviously going to get your critics saying it's only because she's a woman that she got the invite. I feel like I've paid my dues to the game and this is a little payback that I've been rewarded with this invite."
|Who is Reanne Evans?|
|Current world ladies snooker champion - aiming for 11th title in April. Mainly right-handed, but can play with her left||Now coached by Stephen Feeney, who has helped Stuart Bingham and Martin Gould to ranking tournament success|
|Competed against the men this season in Players Tour Championship events in Bulgaria, Portugal and Germany||Says her top break is 142 - five off a maximum; and has hit a 140 in competition|
She is not the first woman to feature in the world qualifiers - although it is a rarity - having lost 10-6 to Sam Baird in her opening match four years ago after being given a wildcard to the professional tour that season.
Evans is followed by her daughter Lauren, an eight-year-old snooker fan. "She goes with me to tournaments and loves it. Bless her, she's my number one fan. Lauren had a 14 break down the club the other night," she said.
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said he hoped the progress of Evans would help encourage more female players,
"Snooker is based on technical skills, it's not a strength or power game," he said.
"Men and women can compete - I actually believe it's one of the most accessible sports in the world.
"She deserves the chance to play in the World Championship and she will be aiming to become the first woman ever to play in the main event at the Crucible. Reanne is a trail-blazer for female players around the world."
Evans knows she only has an outside chance of making the final 32, and has mixed feelings about the chance of facing someone like five-time world champion O'Sullivan.
"You want to play people like Ronnie, but you know that's going to be your toughest game. You see how hard they work, how easy they sometimes make it look and it's not," said the player, from Dudley in the west Midlands.
Boasting a highest break of 142, she has appeared in two Snooker Legends Cups and defeated 1997 world champion Ken Doherty, Tony Drago, Joe Swail and Fergal O'Brien during those matches.
|World Snooker Championship||Ladies' World Championship|
|Guaranteed earnings from winning qualification: £12,000||First prize for winner: £1,500|
|Champion's prize in 2012: £250,000 (Ronnie O'Sullivan)||Champion's prize in 2012: £450 (Reanne Evans)|
Evans said there are still some snooker clubs which will not allow females.
"It's scary. That's their rules and that's it basically. That's the way it's always been for them," said Evans, who took up the sport aged 13 after watching her brothers play.
"You want to beat the men anyway but it gives you that extra incentive to say: 'I can beat you, so why can't I play?'
"I don't think women have had the same chances as the men. It's not physical, so there's no reason why more women can't compete even at a higher level than me."
Of clubs turning away female players, Ferguson said: "If that is the case, that is totally unacceptable. Sport is about fairness and providing an opportunity for all."
The invitation list for the World Snooker Championship has been broadened to give all previous winners a chance to grab one of 16 places to join the world's top 16 in the televised stage.
It is thought that former winners such as Steve Davis and John Parrott, plus six-time runner-up Jimmy White, will take part in the qualifiers at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, from 8 to 15 April.
A handful of overseas players will also be invited as the sport attempts to continue its global expansion.
Mandy Fisher, chairperson of World Ladies Snooker, said she welcomed the WPBSA's intention to govern and develop the female game.
"I'm very pleased to see Reanne given the chance to play in the World Championship, she is an outstanding player and worthy of the opportunity," she said.
|World Snooker Championship qualifying|
|A total of 128 players will face off at Ponds Forge, Sheffield, from 8-15 April for 16 places in the final 32|
|The top 16-ranked players are usually guaranteed a spot in the televised stage, although number 16 must qualify this year as Ali Carter's ranking was frozen at 13 after battling cancer|
|Players will have to win three qualifying games, including those ranked 17-32 (they previously needed one victory)|
Evans on sexism in sport
"When I was playing league snooker, we had to send letters off to certain clubs when we were playing away because they didn't allow ladies to play.
"As a youngster, I had to play a frame and leave or sit in the corner and not have a drink. You don't hear about it as much, but I still hear about it.
"It does spur me on. If we play a certain club, they won't let me play. My ambition is to get ladies playing and bring the game through."
Snooker's bid to be an Olympic sport
"I think that will help ladies snooker in general as I believe they have to have men and women playing. Hopefully it can only bring the profile of ladies snooker up if accepted. So hurry up."
Could there be a female world champion in the next 20 years?
"If we are given the opportunities to improve ourselves, then there's no reason why not.
"I think this is a a step forward and hopefully there will be bigger steps and we get a few ladies on the men's tour and get a ladies professional circuit."