Ronnie O’Sullivan’s Grudge Match With Hossein Vafaei Gets Off To Explosive Start

O'Sullivan and Vafaei had been engaged in a war of words in the build-up to their last-16 encounter
16:31, 21 Apr 2023

Ronnie O’Sullivan’s grudge World Championship clash with Iran’s Hossein Vafaei got off to an explosive start on Friday.

The Rocket and the ‘Prince of Persia’ had been engaged in a war of words in the build-up to their last-16 encounter at the Crucible.

Qualifier Vafaei, who impressively beat Chinese superstar Ding Junhui in the first round, has had a beef with world No1 and seven-time world champion O’Sullivan for 18 months.


It stems from a German Masters qualifying tie in 2021 that saw O’Sullivan, trailing 4-0 at the time, smash up the reds from the break-off  - a gesture Vafaei saw as “disrespectful”.

The feud escalated when the world No23 and former Shootout winner last year said O’Sullivan should call time on his career. 

And then in recent days defending world champion O’Sullivan bit back, warning his rival not to “rattle his cage” and pointing to sporting consequences for those who have tried.

That triggered yet more from Vafaei, who suggested that O’Sullivan was “a nice person…when he’s asleep”. And so there was red-hot anticipation for the first session of three of their second-round clash in Sheffield. 

O’Sullivan made a statement break of 78 to go 1-0 up. But then at the start of the second frame with Vafaei breaking for the first time, he glanced up with a grin to his entourage and then smashed up the pack of reds himself with a crazy pool-style break.

O’Sullivan duly took full advantage, making another break of 78 to go 2-0 up. If there was any serious point being attempted, it quickly appeared lost.

And the reaction from snooker’s great and good in the BBC commentary box and studio was scathing.

Seven-time world snooker champion Stephen Hendry said: “Before Hossein got down to break-off, he looked up to presumably one of his friends in the crowd and smiled. It is obviously a pre-meditated break-off.

“It is what Ronnie did to him in a match once. Silly really to get involved in that. It’s the World Championship. What was he hoping to achieve there? Ronnie won’t care. Not good, not clever.”

Steve Davis, in the BBC studio said: "It is not good to see. It is not disrespectful to Ronnie but maybe to the game and people who have come to watch a good game.

“It is not nice, it is not good. Snooker is not a personal game. Your problem is the table and the balls are not your opponent.

"I find this very difficult to analyse, Hossein Vafaei is not cut from the same lump of wood as me. I don't understand how you can smash up the balls in the World Championship.

“I don't understand how you can then play great in the next frame. What type of brain can do that? To prove your point, whatever, but not in the World Championship.

“I don't know where he is coming from. Bloody hell to win frame three, after embarrassing yourself, how can you concentrate?”

Commentator John Virgo said: “That is a first for me. I cannot believe he has played a shot like that in the biggest match of his career.

“I don’t know what he was trying to prove. What he has done is sit down and watch the maestro in action. You could say he has had the best seat in the house.”

Vafaei nicked frame three on the pink to get on the board – but O’Sullivan made it 3-1 at the first mid-session interval with breaks of 69 and 51.O’Sullivan became the first player to make 200 century breaks at the Crucible with a run of 102 to make it 5-1. And he finished the session with a commanding 6-2 lead – needing seven frames today to win with a session to spare.

Betfred's O'Sullivan vs Vafaei Match Odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware 

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