Soheil Vahedi holds aloft his IBSF World Amateur Championship Trophy
Iranian snooker is on the rise and this season the country’s World Cup team will be represented by two fully fledged professionals for the first time.
Hossein Vafaei and Soheil Vahedi will travel to Wuxi next month with high hopes, after enjoying promising campaigns in 2016/17. The former made an instant impact on the World Snooker Tour with a strong first full season and Vahedi secured professional status by winning the IBSF World Amateur title, beating Andrew Pagett 8-1 in the final.
“I’ve achieved only half of my dream turning pro,” said the 28 year-old Vahedi. “This is just the start. Playing here on massive occasions is a different kettle of fish. That’s what we need to do. We need to take our game to the next level and beat the top lads in the game.”
Vafaei followed a similar path to secure his tour card. He also won the World Amateur title, pipping Lee Walker to the crown 10-9 in 2011. However, visa problems plagued his hopes of a professional breakthrough. He has now sorted those difficulties and won the World U21 title in the meantime.
Last season Vafaei went on a tremendous run to the quarter-finals of the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast and recorded a stunning upset of Judd Trump on his way to the semi-finals at the China Open. He lost out in the last four to Mark Williams, but his victory over the 2011 UK Champion served as a huge boost of confidence.
Vafaei remarked: “At that time I was dreaming. I had already lost to Judd Trump and Joe Perry two times in big tournaments. At that point I kept losing to them. but one day I had to take my revenge. I beat Joe in the last 64 which was great. To then beat Judd and reach the semi-finals was an awesome feeling. I can’t wait for this season. I am so hungry to win a tournament. I’ve come close many times. However, semi-finals and quarter-finals aren’t good enough anymore. I need to take it that step further.”
Iran possesses great potential as an emergent force on the snooker scene, with over 1000 clubs in the country. The strong following of the sport is typified in the close-knit relationship between their current top two stars.
Vahedi has moved in with his teammate in the past two weeks to base himself in Britain. The pair live in Sheffield, where they play out of Star Snooker Academy. However, their relationship as roommates was put under the microscope immediately at China Championship qualifying, where they came out of the hat against each other. On this occasion Vafaei came through a 5-0 winner. But his opponent remains undeterred by the experience.
Vahedi said: “It’s a bad feeling. Out of 128 players I ended up drawing my roommate. I was really upset, but you just have to get out there and play. It’s all about experience at the moment. The tables and the lighting are very different.
“Hopefully in the future I will fare better. Now he is through, I’m going to support him to go further. It is going to give me confidence. The whole thing is teamwork. He inspires me and I hope can inspire him.
“Snooker in Iran is already huge with us both turning professional. Hossein beating Judd Trump was a big moment for everybody. More youngsters are joining the game and if we could win the World Cup it would be a massive sign to them that they too can achieve things. You feel as if you are responsible for everyone watching back home. It is massive and we have to try to be successful.”
Vafaei is equally as excited to represent his country next month and hopes that the close bond between the pair can aide their chances.
“We now live together, we practise together, everything is together. I have known him since I was 11 years old, which is half of my life. I hope we can do well in this event and throughout the season. Soheil will come up to around my ranking soon. We will look to help each other throughout the season.”