Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei will face each other in the second round of the 2023 World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
This season for Ronnie O’Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan has not been in especially good form by his standards for the majority of this campaign, particularly in the second half of the term.
O’Sullivan did manage to produce the goods in a couple of high-profile invitation events in the early part of the season.
He triumphed at the Hong Kong Masters in October and then again in the Champion of Champions less than a month later.
However, his performances in ranking events have been mostly disappointing, underlined by his failure to go beyond the last-eight stage in such a tournament all season.
O’Sullivan has reportedly been working with SightRight’s Stephen Feeney again in an effort to get his game back in working order.
While the world number one hasn’t entered this edition at the Crucible Theatre in prime form, he always has the ability to flick a switch and suddenly reproduce his devastating best.
This season for Hossein Vafaei
Hossein Vafaei made it consecutive Crucible appearances by successfully coming through the qualifiers courtesy of triumphs over Welsh duo Andrew Pagett and Jackson Page.
The confident Iranian will have been one of the obvious players that a lot of the seeds would have wanted to avoid in the first-round draw – underlined by his terrific defeat of Ding Junhui in round one at the venue stages.
Vafaei has been hovering just outside the world’s top 16 for quite some time and is on the cusp of finally breaking into the elite bracket.
Suspensions for players above him in the rankings led to an appearance at the invitational Masters in January, when he beat Mark Selby on his debut.
Vafaei recently reached the last four of the Six Red World Championship, but his displays in ranking tournaments throughout the 2022/23 term have been patchy.
What happened in the first round?
O’Sullivan’s clearance to pinch the opening frame against Pang Junxu set the tone for much of his first-round tie.
The reigning world champion immediately then stamped his authority on the affair and orchestrated a 6-1 advantage that he was never going to relinquish.
Despite suffering from illness, O’Sullivan fought off the young Chinese competitor’s late rally to eventually prevail 10-7.
Vafaei, meanwhile, beat Ding 10-6 with a magnificent display in the second session that earned him a standing ovation from the crowd and even six-time world champion Steve Davis in the commentary booth.
The Iranian’s maiden victory at the Crucible Theatre means that he could be just another win away from finally breaking into the top 16, depending on how other results also go.
Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei head-to-head
A war of words between the pair ensures that there is no love lost heading into this battle with one another.
Vafaei has taken umbrage at the lack of respect O’Sullivan shows a lot of his opponents on the main tour, but the latter warned others not to “rattle his cage”.
It sets up a fiery showdown that has everybody eager to find out what will happen next when they actually face each other on the green baize.
O’Sullivan leads their head-to-head 2-1 following triumphs in both the 2019 English Open and 2021 World Grand Prix over seven frames.
Vafaei won their most recent tie with a 5-0 drubbing of the world number one at the German Masters qualifiers over a year ago.
The tit-for-tat between O’Sullivan and Vafaei in the media has an air of pantomime to it, but there’s no doubting the fact that it’s entertaining.
The snooker scene is often referred to as a family environment where everyone is approachable and the players generally get on well together.
That’s all nice and dandy but it’s a tad boring, and any sport can benefit from a bit of needle and rivalry to spice things up.
If Vafaei can produce at the same level he mustered against Ding in the latter frames, he will be a tough player to beat.
Yet one wonders how much pressure he has unnecessarily heaped on his shoulders by basically calling out the game’s greatest ever player.
A motivated O’Sullivan will be eager to bring his A-game.
Prediction: Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-8 Hossein Vafaei
Friday, April 21st – 2:30pm
Saturday, April 22nd – 2:30pm
Sunday, April 23rd – 10am
Featured photo credit: WST