There’s that thing in sport when a draw is being made for a tournament and they say ‘that’s a player/team everyone will want to avoid.’
In snooker, you might think that would refer to Ronnie O’Sullivan or the world champion, Mark Selby, but for former Masters winner Mark Allen the dreaded opponent is from much closer to home.
The draw for the British Open 2021 has been made, and Allen has been paired with Reanne Evans – his former girlfriend with whom he has a teenage daughter.
The pair’s split has been less than amicable of late, and Allen made headlines when he demanded that the BBC remove his ex-partner from their studio during the World Championships. The Northern Irishman was practising for his next game with Evans, working as a pundit for the corporation, in his eyeline – it is said that the TV channel complied and asked the 12-time women’s world champion to leave the studio.
Shortly after, Allen lost 7-13 to the eventual champion Selby, and he told the BBC that he was taking a break from the sport to address ‘personal issues’ – seemingly in reference to an ongoing legal battle with Evans about maintenance payments for their child.
“There’s numerous things going on off the table which I’d rather not talk about,” Allen confirmed after being dumped out of the Worlds. “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, the most decorated female snooker player of all time, has been handed a two-year tour card to compete on the men’s circuit alongside Ng On-yee, the three-time women’s world champion, and legend Jimmy White.
When commenting on the wildcards, Allen said ‘I’m not really sure what the two women and Jimmy White are going to bring.’ The British Open gets underway on August 16.
Ex Appeal: What Happens When Former Lovers Meet in Sport
Given that men and women very rarely compete against one another in sporting competition, the scenario facing Allen and Evans is pretty unique.
Mixed doubles in tennis is about as close as we get to regular gender-war action, and there have been some interesting scenarios featuring real couples over the years.
Who knows, maybe Allen and Evans will follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, the tennis lovers who captivated the world in the early 1970s when they announced their relationship and went on to win the respective men’s and women’s Wimbledon titles in 1974.
However, they would soon break off their engagement, and it would take almost a decade for them to let bygones be bygones. In 1983, they competed together in a special mixed doubles World Championship event, going on to lift the trophy and clinch the bulk of the $400,000 prize fund.
Ironically, Evert was married at that time to John Lloyd, a British tennis pro who had reached the Australian Open final in 1977. He was an excellent doubles player too, but instead of teaming up with Evert opted to join forces with Wendy Turnbull instead.
The pair separated in the early 1980s, before briefly rekindling their romance. They divorced for good in 1987.
Roger Federer and his wife, Mirka, played mixed doubles together while representing Switzerland at the Olympic Games in 2000, although Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf – another power couple in tennis – chose never to play on the same side of the net.
But as for partners, or ex lovers, competing against one another? This is unchartered territory.