Ball Breakers

They're cool. They're coifed. They're tightly wrapped. And they kick ass with a cue stick.

The visibility of women pros also increased soon after that when Ewa Laurance, a blond, high-cheekboned Swedish player nicknamed "The Striking Viking," got the cover of the New York Times Magazine. Wearing a short, green, sequin dress in the photo, Laurance was the top female player at the time, and the photo became "a very famous cover in our sport," Stauch says. "When Ewa came over from Sweden, all she'd won was toasters."

It's still not easy to make a living at pool as a woman, but at least the paychecks aren't small appliances. "Every year, we go for a heftier goal as to the number who can make a living at it," Stauch says. "Realistically, I'd say 20, probably closer to 30, make a living at this. Most of the girls are house pros. They have sponsorships."

ESPN had broadcast men's and women's games together until the WPBA struck a deal in 1993 for solo chicks-with-sticks broadcasts.

Colby Katz
Jeanette Lee, a.k.a. the Black Widow, is one of the main reasons men are tuning into women's pool.
Jeanette Lee, a.k.a. the Black Widow, is one of the main reasons men are tuning into women's pool.

It's those shows that so influenced the likes of Barretta, whose amazingly quick ascent in the pros has led her this night to a 6-6 tie with Corr.

The next game is all or nothing. Barretta breaks, and she plays like always: slow and methodical. "People used to complain," she says later. "I think people have a natural rhythm. Some just get up there and shoot the ball. I tried that, and I can't make a shot. When I take my time, I do everything right... or, I should say, I get it right more often."

Corr regains control of the ball, but it's not her night. She fouls, which allows Barretta the chance to set up the perfect shot. Goliath falls. The crowd goes mad.

Later, as she's signing autographs, looking at her wobbly hand, Barretta says, "I'm shaking still." Two teenaged boys in the line are paging through the tournament program. "I'm looking for her picture in here," one says. "Or her phone number," says the other.

After the crowd clears, Barretta says: "I just want to follow in the footsteps of my idol. I don't even have to say her name." (Hint: She's named after a deadly spider.) "She's been so helpful. She's the one who put me in touch with FHM. She's kind of taken me under her wing. She'll say, 'Don't do it this way; do it this way.' She's very generous with her knowledge. She knows that there's room for more than one."

Ming Ng didn't take any prize money back to Miami, despite winning two matches.

"I had a really tough draw in pulling Karen Corr, but even granted that, I didn't play bad," she ruminates a week after the match. "I felt like she got all the pressure, that it wasn't on me." Despite Ng's strong start in the match, Corr took it home by 9-2. Ng says she just didn't get "the rolls," which she describes as "the luck factor." Corr got the rolls.

The match that knocked her out of the double-elimination tournament also had some voodoo rolls. Purely by accident, her opponent knocked the 9-ball in during combination shots twice during back-to-back games. "That kind of mentally got me edgy," Ng confesses. She has now set her sights on the opening of the 2005 tour in February in North Carolina.

Barretta found more than her match in the semifinals against Julie "Motor Molly" Kelly, one of the Irish queenpins who dominate the game. Barretta seemed to crack when she was faced with the break, the match standing at 6-5. Kelly was one game away from the finals. Barretta drew back her stick and drove it forward. But the loud crash of balls never came, because she delivered a miscue that left the audience in a collective gasp and the cue ball sputtering along in slow motion. Kelly finished her off quickly.

But Kelly faced the Black Widow in the final. "Every cow in Tennessee would like to be in that leather," Tipton said to the audience while he talked about Lee's outfit. He quickly realized that his tortured metaphor was getting some titters. "Or donate that leather," he added.

Leading at 6-5, Lee asked for the one five-minute break allowed per match. Returning from the ladies room, she suddenly turned to the audience and shouted, "Is this exciting enough for you guys?"

Kelly tied it up, 6-6, but the Celtic billiards gods were not to be kind. Lee, the billiards juggernaut, began cleaning the table off. "C'mon, USA," shouted a man in the audience. When Lee sank the 9, the crowd erupted. "U-S-A, U-S-A," chanted some.

Lee raised her arms above her head and jutted her cue like a flagpole.

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