Iranian number one Hossein Vafaei has spearheaded a surge in popularity for snooker in his home country, he now hopes that his continued success on the professional circuit can inspire a new generation of fans and players.
The world number 41 will travel to Guangzhou next week to compete in the Evergrande China Championship. It is a country where he has enjoyed success before, having reached the semi-finals of the 2017 China Open. We caught up with him to look back on that run and find out more about snooker in Iran…
Hossein if we can go back to the start, how did you originally get into playing snooker?
“There was a snooker club in front of my house when I was growing up. I remember the first time I became aware of it, at the age of six, my dad was away from home. I couldn’t wait for him to come back and ask him what it was. He took my hand and we went to the club and he started teaching me how to play. I will never forget that day. As soon as I started playing I was hooked, I couldn’t stop. Two years later, at the age of eight, I won my first tournament.”
Considering there was a time that snooker was banned in Iran, things have clearly changed completely with the sport becoming very popular there. What is your vision for the future of snooker in Iran?
“The story of snooker in Iran didn’t have a nice start. Snooker halls weren’t nice places to go and it wasn’t legal to play. However, there was a generational change and people started loving snooker. Clubs have completely changed and they are very nice places to go to. I am very happy that snooker is getting bigger in my country and in the Middle East. Iran is very capable of hosting a tournament. I hope that one day there will be a professional event in Iran. That would be great for the country and it would be fantastic for more people to travel there and learn the history of Iran.”
You had a brilliant run to the semi-finals of the China Open in 2017. How much do you enjoy travelling to play in China?
“I love playing in China. It is just a great place and I like having Chinese people around me. I am very good friends with Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo. During that tournament they were supporting me and it was very nice. I was relaxed and my game came out. A lot of it was down to winning my first match with Joe Perry. He had beaten me badly in a previous meeting and is a player I have great respect for. I was worried about how I was going to win. However, I worked very hard and managed to get the better of him. If you can beat someone as tough as that, you need to take advantage. I took so much confidence from beating Joe and it allowed me to then get a win over Judd Trump and reach the semi-finals.”
For the China Championship match schedule click here