Steve Davis says Reanne Evans is perhaps the best female player he has ever seen, but she will have her work cut out to make it through qualifying and become the first woman to play in the first round of the World Championship.
Evans’ task is all the more intimidating because on Thursday she has to face 1997 world champion Ken Doherty in the first of three preliminary rounds prior to the start of the main event at the Crucible in Sheffield on 18 April.
Davis calls the 29-year-old Evans “a great player” and said of the 10-time women’s world champion from Dudley: “It’s a real tough battle out there against players who are playing for their livelihoods. It’s a bun fight, but she’s perhaps the best woman player I’ve ever seen.
“In the 1980s I saw Allison Fisher, who was the best around, and she was an excellent, excellent player but more methodical. Reanne is more like the Jimmy White or the Ronnie O’Sullivan of the women’s game. She has the feel for the game, she’s at one with the table. She could cause a surprise but to win three matches is the tough bit.”
Davis also thinks it will be difficult for others to qualify – namely himself and fans’ favourite White, who will tackle fellow veteran James Wattana in his opening match on Saturday.
“If me or Jimmy qualify for the Crucible, it’s arguably as big a win as we’ve ever had,” said Davis. “I’ve got a little bit of a desire to do it but Jimmy would certainly love to get back to the Crucible.”
White, 52, who lost six World Championship finals, last appeared at the tournament in 2006 and has fallen short in qualifying every year since then.
Davis turns 58 in August and fell off the main tour 12 months ago. A tricky qualifying opener against Jamie Cope could end in disappointment, but it would be short-lived.
“I can’t build up the intensity that I used to have, but I must admit I’m getting excited about pitting my wits against another generation of players,” said the six-time world champion. “Of course, it’ll all end in tears.
“I’m not totally committed but I still have the juices running through me a little bit. I’ve been practising but it’s not a pretty sight. They’re wobbling more in the pockets before saying ‘nope’.
“Whether I get to the TV stages, that’s a long shot. I was still practising hard even when I wasn’t getting that far, and in the end you have to say, ‘Yeah, I’ve tried, but the price is too much investment of time’.
“Now if I’ve lost a match, by the time I’ve got in the car I’ve thought about what I’m going to do for the rest of the day, rather than beating up the person who’s come up with me.
“It’s been a bit like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – I’m sure in the night that someone swapped me for a more mellow version.”