Hossein Vafaei produced a crucial four frame burst to come from behind and beat Jamie Cope 10-8 in Betfred World Championship Qualifying at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
The Iranian came within two frames of becoming the first player from his country to grace the Crucible baize last year. He was defeated 10-8 by Tom Ford in the final round of qualifying.
Vafaei has already become Iran’s first professional player and made an impact on his debut season in 2016/17, reaching the semi-finals of the China Open and beating Judd Trump on the way. The 23-year-old has now been joined by compatriot Soheil Vahedi, who is the World Snooker Tour’s second Iranian player.
Two-time ranking event finalist Cope, who is now playing as an amateur, never trailed until he fell 9-8 behind. However, he will return to the English Institute of Sport later this week to compete for a tourcard at the EBSA Playoffs. He can take solace going into that from a strong performance, which saw him top score with 141.
Vafaei claimed victory by surging to the line from 8-6 down, compiling consecutive breaks of 66, 118, 58 and 41. He will face Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham next, who thrashed Chen Zifan 10-1.
Sam Baird maintained his hopes of tour survival by securing a fine 10-5 win over Vafaei’s fellow Iranian Vahedi.
Baird, who qualified for the Crucible in 2016, needs to progress at least beyond the next round to stand a chance of keeping his professional status.
Baird said: “I was a bit nervous to get over the line and there is a lot riding on this week. It is going to be nerve wracking in the upcoming games, but I managed to play well.
“It would probably be my best achievement to reach the Crucible with all of that at stake. I’d love to be able to just enjoy it and have a go, but the next games are so important.”
His opponent in the next round will be Jimmy Robertson, who was first to progress this afternoon thanks to a crushing 10-2 defeat of Malta’s Alex Borg.
Tom Ford continued his good form with a 10-2 defeat of Leo Fernandez. Ford recently reached the quarter-finals of the lucrative China Open and came through World Championship qualifying at Ponds Forge last year.