Iran’s top player Hossein Vafaei scored a superb 4-1 win over Ding Junhui in the last 16 of the matchroom World Grand Prix and believes his success can stimulate snooker’s development in his home country.
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Vafaei became the first Iranian professional player when he competed on the tour in 2015, and has since been joined by Soheil Vahedi. In recent seasons 26-year-old Vafaei has had considerable success, reaching three ranking event semi-finals and climbing to 37th in the world.
Today’s performance against Ding showcased his ability as he knocked in breaks of 86, 134 and 51.
“I played really well today, I found my game,” said Vafaei, who now meets Mark Selby in the quarter-finals. “Ding is such a star in China, I really respect him. A lot of people are going to be sad tonight but I’m a fan of his as well. I like to play on the big stage in the big tournaments. It’s all about confidence. I lost in the first round of seven tournaments in a row last season, I was struggling. I’m delighted to get back on track.
Asked what the impact would be in Iran if he won a first ranking title, Vafaei replied: “You can’t imagine what would happen! So many people are following me. Snooker is a new sport in Iran so it needs time to grow there. When I win it’s a story in the newspapers and people will follow it more. If I lose, snooker is never going to grow. I have to keep winning to open a new market for the sport and the players. No one in Iran wants me to lose. We are good at sport there, people support us. They love me to play well.”
Selby continued his quest to win a second consecutive ranking title as he beat Anthony McGill 4-2. Leicester’s Selby thrashed Ronnie O’Sullivan 9-3 in the final of the Matchroom.Live Scottish Open last Sunday and has carried on his momentum. In the eight frames he has won this week, he has made a century and seven more breaks over 50.
Runs of 134 and 58 helped put him 2-0 ahead of McGill, then his opponent fought back to 2-2 with 87 and 128. World number four Selby responded with 86 and 91 to reach the last eight.
Four-time World Champion John Higgins suffered a 4-3 reverse against up-and-coming Chinese potter Zhao Xintong. Breaks of 111 and 137 helped give Zhao a 3-1 lead, then he missed match ball twice in frame five and that opened a window for Higgins to battle back to 3-3.
The decider came down to the last red, and Zhao slotted a tremendous long pot into a top corner, before clearing to the pink for victory.
“John missed a lot of easy balls and that gave me chances,” said 23-year-old Zhao. “I should have won 4-1 but I got nervous in the fifth frame. I told myself ‘no problem’ and still thought I could win. I played well in the last frame. Every time I win a match I have more confidence in the next one. I believe that I can win a tournament but I need to work hard.”
Zhao now faces Jack Lisowski, who got the better of a Gloucestershire derby against Robert Milkins, winning 4-0. After taking a scrappy opening frame, Lisowski rattled through the last three in just 32 minutes, making breaks of 130, 127 and 56.