Snooker 's top stars will look to keep it in the family this month as Maria Catalano becomes the first woman to compete in the final stages of the World Seniors Championship.
Her invitation to the tournament comes after cousin Ronnie O'Sullivan defeated Judd Trump to clinch a record-equalling seventh World Snooker Championship on Monday. No sooner had that tournament finished before its senior equivalent got underway on Wednesday.
Catalano—a five-time runner-up at the World Women's Snooker Championship—will officially claim a place in the Crucible history books when she faces Wael Talaat on Thursday. Victory over the Egyptian would then put her on course for a second-round clash against the legendary Jimmy White.
"To be in the same competition as Jimmy is a dream for me, let alone having the chance to play him,” she told the Sheffield Star . “If this can encourage any lady or girl to play, that’s my aim, to try and promote women in snooker. It’s still under the radar.”
White—who is 20 years Catalano's elder—has won the Seniors crown on three occasions and would represent one of the biggest matches in her career. But the tournament debut itself against Talaat is arguably of even greater significance, regardless of the outcome.
Catalano only met the minimum age requirement for the World Seniors Championship in February. She said the invitation to Sheffield acted as a lift, having fallen out of form after her father Antonio—O'Sullivan's uncle, from whom he received his middle name—died from cancer in 2018.
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"It’s been a constant struggle since then,” Catalano continued. “I was finding it difficult to practice, just feeling I was getting nothing out of it. I didn’t practice a lot and my last season’s results speak for themselves. I feel this opportunity has turned my life a little bit.”
That invitation to take part at the Crucible only arrived in April since which cousin O'Sullivan has drawn level with Stephen Hendry on seven World Championships. Catalano said she "always knew Ronnie was the greatest" as she looks to replicate his success at the same venue.
"We all watched it [the final win over Trump] as a family, there wasn’t one dry eye in our house,” she added. "We broke down with him. He’s the spitting image of my dad, I see my dad in him a little bit. It was very emotional.”