Iran’s Hossein Vafaei recorded a 5-3 defeat of Joe Perry to progress to the semi-finals of the Evergrande China Championship in Guangzhou.
World number 41 Vafaei was the first ever professional player from Iran and has been a trailblazer for the sport in his country. He was joined on tour by compatriot Soheil Vahedi in 2017.
Vafaei’s two other trips to the last four of a ranking event came at the 2017 China Open and earlier this year at the 2019 Welsh Open. He lost to Mark Williams and Neil Robertson respectively.
Tomorrow’s semi-final will be a repeat of that China Open clash, with Vafaei crossing cues with Williams once again. The Iranian will be hoping to go one step further on this occasion.
Vafaei kicked off this afternoon’s match in impressive fashion with a century run of 104. He then doubled his advantage, before Perry notched up his first frame of the match. However, a break of 71 saw Vafaei head into the mid-session interval with a 3-1 lead.
Perry forced his way back into contention with a stunning 134 break upon their return. They then traded frames, leaving Vafaei one up with two to play at 4-3.
Perry had chances to force the decider, but it was Vafaei who wrapped up victory with a break of 66 to reach his third ranking semi-final.
Vafaei said: “I have learned a lot about quarter-finals and semi-finals. I know what I have to do. In all of my matches, I know what I have to do. I have to find my form and find my rhythm.
“Snooker is getting bigger everyday in Iran. Every month or three months new snooker clubs are opening. With good facilities, snooker is getting very big in Iran. So many people like to watch and play. We have a lot of players, referees and coaches. If I can get good results it will get even bigger than it is now.”
Three-time World Champion Williams secured his progression with a 5-1 demolition of world number 12 David Gilbert.
The Welshman lost the opening frame, but from there produced imperious snooker. Williams composed breaks of 63, 93, 56 and 71 on his way to five frames on the bounce and an emphatic victory.
Defending champion Mark Selby won an epic encounter with Barry Hawkins 5-4 to secure his place in the last four.
With the scores locked at 3-3 they played out a marathon 51-minute seventh frame. After an extended period of safety play on the colours, Hawkins finally got in with a chance to clear. He spurned a pink to the middle. Eventually Selby punished him by depositing a pressure black to move 4-3 up.
Three-time World Champion Selby had then looked set to wrap up the match before breaking down on 46 in the following frame. Hawkins stepped up and fired in a superb break of 73 to steal.
However, Selby wasn’t to be denied and produced a ice cool contribution of 98 in the decider to seal victory and set up a semi-final showdown with an in-form Shaun Murphy.
Selby said: “It was always going to be a tough game. We have become really close friends. It was a tough match, but I think that was down to us playing some really good safety and not giving each other a chance.
“Shaun had a season to forget last year. He has shown his class this year. You can’t ask much more than getting to two finals and here he is in another semi-final. It is going to be a tough game.”
2005 Crucible king Murphy secured his progression with a 5-2 defeat of Norway’s Kurt Maflin.
I can’t really comment about the matches, having seen very little of today’s action.
The semi finals line-up is quite remarkable though. We have there three former World Champions in Williams, Selby and Murphy who have all in common the fact that although they are all in the top 16, they came here on the back of a rather lean spell and none of them has yet secured his place in the Champion of Champions. Hossein Vafaei, of course, hasn’t either. This means that whoever lifts the trophy on Sunday, it will be a new name in the 2019 CofC draw. It also means that Jimmy White has still to wait and hope for a repeat winner in one of the two other remaining events: the World Open 2019 and the English Open 2019.