The 11-time ranking event winner and former world number one jumped at the chance to become the first woman to take part in the most prestigious event on World Seniors Snooker (WSS) tour, which gets under way at The Crucible today.
Life has been tough for Maria since her dad Antonio’s death in 2018 – and her form on the table suffered as a result.
"It’s been a constant struggle since then,” she told The Star ahead of her first-round match against Egypt’s Wael Talaat on Thursday.
Dudley-based Maria, now 40, was close to giving up snooker.
But an invite from WSS chairman Jason Francis three weeks ago changed her mind.
She added: “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.”
Inspiration to perform at the home of snooker will not be in short supply for Maria, who watched her cousin Ronnie O’Sullivan claim his seventh World Championship title on Monday as he became the oldest world champion in Crucible history.
"We all watched it as a family, there wasn’t one dry eye in our house,” she said.
"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.”
Maria is named after Ronnie’s mum and Ronnie’s middle name, Antonio, comes from Maria’s dad.
"I always knew Ronnie was the greatest,” she added.
“I can’t believe he’s my cousin sometimes. We used to spend a lot of time together when I was younger. He helped me out a lot.”
The prospect of a second-round tie against the legendary Jimmy White also awaits, if Maria can get the better of Talaat over five frames.
"To be in the same competition as Jimmy is a dream for me, let alone having the chance to play him,” she said.
But some things are more important than competing.
“If this can encourage any lady or girl to play, that’s my aim, to try and promote women in snooker,” Maria said.
"It’s still under the radar.”