Hossein Vafaei vows no repeat of ‘crazy’ break-off in Ronnie O’Sullivan rematch

By Sports Desk December 01, 2023

Hossein Vafaei has vowed there will be no repeat of his kamikaze Crucible break-off when he faces Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semi-finals of the UK Snooker Championship in York on Saturday.

The Iranian sealed a rematch of the grudge clash that rocked last April’s World Championship by beating China’s Zhang Anda 6-4 while O’Sullivan dredged up a break of 122 to sink qualifier Zhou Yuelong in a final-frame decider.

Vafaei says he has no regrets about his wild start – where he smashed the balls from his first break-off and saw O’Sullivan mop up a clinical 78 – at the Crucible, which was a response to perceived disrespect shown by O’Sullivan when he played a similar shot in a match at the German Masters 18 months earlier.

Despite also claiming pre-match that he wanted to “shut” O’Sullivan’s mouth and that the Englishman should retire because he was “not good for the game”, the pair had exited the stage arm in arm after the underdog’s 13-2 humbling.

“The past is the past,” Vafaei insisted on Friday. “I’d been waiting 18 months to do that. I know it was a little bit crazy but I’ve done it. Everything has karma.

“But I just want to respect my hero and have a good friendship with him. Life is too short. I wish him the best of health and I love him.”

Vafaei, who has now racked up six centuries in the last two rounds, heads into their rematch as the form player after an unfocused O’Sullivan almost let a 4-1 lead slip against the Chinese world number 26.

O’Sullivan, who had edged through in similar circumstances against Robert Milkins in the previous round, showed his frustration as he missed a succession of easy chances before delivering when it mattered, with a final frame clearance to pink of 122.

The 47-year-old is also adamant he bears no ill will towards Vafaei, whom he considered a friend prior to the incident during German Masters qualifying which annoyed the Iranian.

“I didn’t feel disrespected (by Vafaei’s break-off) – not at all,” said O’Sullivan, whose quarter-final win was his 100th in the tournament since he first appeared as a 16-year-old in 1992.

“I’ve done worse – a lot worse. I like Hossein, he’s a fiery character. He doesn’t take no nonsense. That is his character. I like that in someone. He is his own person.”

O’Sullivan looked set for an easy afternoon as Zhou, seemingly paralysed by nerves, looked a shadow of the player who had accounted for both Neil Robertson and John Higgins in previous rounds.

The Chinese player also appeared intent on gifting O’Sullivan the fourth before finally managing to get a frame on the board.

But from a 4-1 advantage O’Sullivan dramatically lost focused, missing a series of simple shots to allow Zhou to pull level twice, before he found just enough to keep his hopes of a record-breaking eighth UK title just about alive.

“I was just waiting for something to happen and it did, and I played all right,” said O’Sullivan, who continues to play down his hopes of lifting the trophy on the 30th anniversary of his first success.

“I just couldn’t make 20, just missing balls all over the place, and he looked like he was gaining confidence. If I don’t find some form from somewhere I’m going to get beat here.”

Vafaei was pushed almost to the limit in a high-quality clash with in-form Chinese player Zhang Anda, who had got the better of world champion Luca Brecel in the previous round.

Twice Vafaei hauled back Zhang’s early advantage by posting century breaks, then from 4-3 behind he summoned a big finish with consecutive breaks of 106 and 56 confirming the first triple crown semi-final of his career.

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