Selby crashes out of UK Championship with defeat to classy Vafaei
Hossein Vafaei stunned Mark Selby 6-4 to advance to the last 16 of the UK Championship after a thrilling contest at the Barbican.
The Iranian needed to be at the top of his game to knock out the Jester, whose dream of winning a hat-trick of UK Championships is over for another year.
Selby’s exit means six of the world’s top 10 have already been eliminated from the tournament.
‘I don’t know how I’m playing,’ says Vafaei of emotional turmoil amid Iran unrest
A DAY AGO
A meeting with Jack Lisowski on Thursday is Vafaei’s reward.
It was a fantastic effort from Vafaei, who had admitted he was struggling to focus on snooker amid protests and civil unrest in his native Iran.
Selby started the match brilliantly with a stunning long red which must be up there for the shot of the tournament so far. However, it was Vafaei who won the opening frame.
The four-time world champion responded with a century, before both players had chances to win a dramatic third frame, with Selby missing a black off the spot to hand Vafaei a lifeline.
The Iranian was not able to take advantage as the frame went scrappy and came down to the final pink and black.
Selby missed the pink along the bottom cushion and Vafaei came to the table to knock it in with an incredible double across nearly the whole diameter of the baize which put him 2-1 in front.
Two scoring visits of 45 and 35 from Selby made the match all square going into the mid-session interval.
The fifth frame turned into a safety contest for much of it until Vafaei fluked a red. But he missed a black which he had to cut back off the spot to give Selby a glimmer of hope.
Despite Selby’s best efforts, Vafaei won the safety exchange on the final red and knocked it in to go ahead for a third time.
And Vafaei would finally take a two-frame advantage after bravely opening the pack with a blue into the middle pocket, proceeding to make a break of 119.
Taking a leaf out of his opponent’s book, and knowing he couldn’t afford to fall further behind, Selby attacked the seventh frame from the off, potting a brilliant long red as he embarked on an impressive century – his second of the match – making one of the best breaks of the competition so far with 129.
After another protracted safety exchange, it was a contest to see who would blink first in the eighth frame before Vafaei took the initiative, courageously planting a red to the middle pocket, and eventually stringing together 88.
Desperate to stay on his opponent’s tail, Selby upped his game once more and extended the match to a 10th frame after Vafaei jawsed a red and made a mess of an attempted escape.
With the score 5-4 in Vafaei’s favour, nerves were tangible by this stage. As a result, neither player could get into any kind of rhythm. Indeed, the longest frame was saved for the last. It was decided when Selby left a red to the middle on, and Vafaei would take full advantage to run out a deserved victor.
Despite his impressive performance, Vafaei insisted he wasn’t entirely happy with how the match panned out.
“It was tough, it was very tough,” he said in the Eurosport studio afterward.
“I was trying to not show any emotion. I was trying to stay calm and cool.
“I wasn’t happy with my technique today, but I don’t know what was wrong with me. I’m getting results but I’m not happy. I don’t know. Maybe I have a mental problem.
“I was thinking I was missing a few easy shots and then after that, I said, ‘oh my God, I’m performing really, really bad’. So what should I do? So I stick in there and fight until my last blood.”
Vafaei says he was playing for the people of Iran, where hundreds of protestors have reportedly been killed since the death in custody of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini.
“I’m just trying to focus what is in front of me…If I am good enough, I will make it. If I’m not good enough, I have to work harder to get there.
“It takes time to get to the Masters, the top 16 players, the best player in the world. If I manage it to go there, it’s such a big achievement for me and my country and my people.
“So I’m trying my best to get there to make them happy and make them proud.”
Meanwhile, Shaun Murphy edged past David Gilbert 6-5 in the other contest played on Tuesday evening.
Murphy made a 133 break and four other 50-plus breaks in a thrilling match.
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