Serena Williams inspires Reanne Evans to storm male bastion

Pioneer looks to tennis in battle against prejudice and financial hardship

Reanne Evans will make snooker history tomorrow morning by becoming the first woman ever to play at a major tournament. Surprisingly, perhaps, the 27-year-old from Dudley has revealed that she derived the inspiration to pursue her career from the American tennis legend Serena Williams.

The nine-time women’s world champion takes on Chinese teenager Zhu Yingui at the Wuxi Classic in the home city of the former UK and Masters champion Ding Junhui. Like her role model, Evans has had to overcome significant obstacles before she achieved her breakthrough 5-4 win last month over Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in a preliminary round in the UK to put her on the plane to China.

Evans, who had a daughter, Lauren, with the Northern Ireland professional Mark Allen – they split up in 2008 – was once banned from playing in a club in the West Midlands simply for being a woman.

She failed to win a match on her only previous season on the main men’s tour three years ago. And she was almost forced to give up on her dream and seek another job after taking home just £400 for winning her last world title, in April.

Yet Evans, who took up the sport as a 13-year-old, refused to head for the United States and the relatively easier pickings to be had on the lucrative women’s pool circuit, a path chosen by former standard-bearer Allison Fisher in the 1990s. Evans has now earned a career-high £3,000 for getting to China.

She says Williams displays the fortitude she admires and needs to pursue her own career. The  16-time Grand Slam winner came from a similarly humble background and faced discrimination early in her career.

“I love tennis and Serena Williams is an absolute genius,” said Evans. “Everything about her, her attitude, and the way she goes about her business. She has had lots of highs and lows – big injuries, and drops in confidence along the way. But she still comes back and wins all the majors.

“I think she is perfect mentally to be able to do that, and has a really good head on her shoulders to come back from all the bad times. She got fined, of course, as well, and the family have not had it easy on their way up, they have had to cope with a lot of things, including family tragedy [the shooting of Williams’s sister Yetunde Price in 2003].

“I just think people who have overcome those kinds of hurdles deserve it more and it means more to them and those close to them. If it is all on a plate for you, then you don’t try so hard and maybe it doesn’t mean as much.”

Some small gloss was taken off Evans’s achievement in reaching the main draw of 64 at Wuxi. She was due to play the current world No 1, Neil Robertson, but then became one of four unlucky players to be drawn to play an extra game, in her case against the 17-year-old wild card Zhu.

If she beats him she will then take on the former world champion, a match-up that would perhaps be more fitting given the ground-breaking circumstances.

When Fisher was beating male opponents in invitation and exhibition events 20 years ago, one or two could not hide their disappointment. But Evans insists that she has been warmly welcomed by her rivals on the circuit, and says that any hostility she faces now comes from social media. “I have had a few nasty things said to me via Twitter and Facebook,” she says. “When I got given my place on the tour there was one lad who kept bombarding me with messages.

“It was, ‘You’re useless at snooker, you shouldn’t be playing, it’s a disgrace you have got the wild card [to take part in the 2010-11 season], Barry Hearn needs his head looking at’, and that kind of stuff.

“There were comments along the lines of, ‘She shouldn’t be on tour, she is only a woman, just because she can beat women doesn’t mean she can beat men.’

Evans is in a positive frame of mind, so she is prepared to come out fighting. “I don’t encounter much discrimination or prejudice now but I want women to get more recognition, and I have a big part to play in that.

“There has been overwhelming support for me from the other men players, and tour players like Alfie Burden and Michael Holt have said, ‘Go on, you have to give this a go’. They said I had to try and take that next step. I have, but I am not finished yet.”