Earlier this year, we thought we’d seen the most dramatic draw for a snooker match we could imagine.
Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry – arguably the greatest to ever pick up a cue – waited with bated breath to discover his opponent for the first round of Crucible qualifying after making a comeback to the sport.
He was unbelievably paired with Jimmy White – a six-time finalist in Sheffield who lost an agonising four of those to his biggest rival.
Ultimately the match failed to deliver; Hendry coming out on top in a clash which taught us that some things are better left alone.
Now, ahead of next month’s British Open, the snooker gods have thrown up another blockbuster clash – but for completely different reasons.
World No.12 Mark Allen – the 2018 Masters champion and a household name in the sport – has been paired with 12-time women’s world champion Reanne Evans in the first round.
On the face of it, nothing too unusual there. Women’s snooker is on the up – similar to in darts where Fallon Sherrock broke the glass ceiling at Ally Pally and Lisa Ashton continues to mix it with the best on the main tour.
But Allen and Evans are ex-partners whose relationship hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons following a bitter row at the Crucible earlier this year.
Evans was working as a pundit for the BBC, who broadcast from the practice room between frames to provide their analysis.
She was preparing to go on air when Allen, who was getting ready for his next match, made a complaint that her presence was a distraction.
Evans was subsequently asked to leave, causing a media storm.
A spokesperson for the BBC said at the time: “For the sake of ten minutes, Reanne left the players’ practice room so Mark Allen could practise before his match without distraction upon his request.
“Her broadcast commitments weren’t affected.”
An upset and embarrassed Evans was said to be concerned that the issue may jeopardise any future TV work.
The WPBSA, the players’ governing body, said they had received a complaint about the incident and had launched an investigation into the circumstances behind the decision.
Northern Irishman Allen attempted to play down the episode when quizzed over his request.
“There have been several cases of players asking for people to be removed when they’re practising ahead of a match,” he said.
“I’m not sure why there is a fuss about this one.”
The pair got together back in 2005 and had a child together, before splitting up in 2008.
They were embroiled in a child maintenance row at the time of the now infamous incident at the Crucible.
It’s understood Evans was seeking an increase on Allen’s payments, said to be around £100-a-month. Allen’s on-table earnings averaged £392,000 over the last four years.
It wasn’t the only legal difficulty for Allen, who was also going through a divorce to estranged wife Kyla McGuigan, with whom he has another daughter.
Despite career earnings of £3.3million, he has since declared himself bankrupt.
Allen beat China’s Lyu Haotian in the match he was practising for when the incident with Evans took place, but lost to eventual winner Mark Selby later on in the competition.
Following the defeat, he opened up on his off-table struggles.
“There’s numerous things going on off the table which I’d rather not talk about,” he told the BBC.
“I will come back but I can’t see me coming back any time soon.
“I’ll probably take a bit of a break from the game even if it means missing a few tournaments just to get all that sorted out.
“It’s hard playing snooker at the best of times when you are competing against the very best in the world with a clear head. At the minute I just don’t have that.”
Evans, who is ranked No.1 on the women’s tour, was awarded a two-year card for the main tour alongside fellow women’s player Ng On Yee from Hong Kong.
But Allen criticised the decision, saying: “I’m not really sure what the two women and Jimmy White are going to bring.”
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