Indian Open: Defending champ Higgins survives Vafaei scare

Defending champion John Higgins survived a scare to beat Iran's Hossein Vafaei 4-3 in their second round clash at the 2019 Indian Open.

John Higgins

Master at work: John Higgins, unfazed by Hossein Vafaei’s comeback, clinched the decider during their second round clash at the 2019 Indian Open.   -  Special Arrangement

For almost three frames, Hossein Vafaei could only sit and admire four-time World champion John Higgins as they met in the second round of the fifth Indian Open world-ranking snooker tournament at the Grand Hyatt, Bolghatty Island, on Friday.

Defending champion Higgins, who went on to win the match 4-3 and move to the pre-quarterfinal, raced to a 3-0 lead and then Vafaei suddenly woke up and realised that he had a job to do.

The 24-year-old, the first Iranian to play professional snooker, had lost two years after winning the 2011 World amateur title in Bengaluru owing to visa issues to travel and had to miss the pro tour in England.

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“Those were two golden years of my life,” said Vafaei, the World No. 33, who stormed back with a century break in the fourth frame. Inspired, he went on to win three frames in a row to draw level.

However, World No. 4 Higgins, the master that he is, shut out the Iranian in the final frame with a 128 break to clinch the thriller. “In best of seven, you can be 3-0 in front but you’re not by any means over the line. He was incredible, coming back that way after losing the first three... he’s a great player, great boy as well,” said the 43-year-old Scot.

Vafaei also spoke about the problems he faced during his snooker journey. “I don’t have Star tables in my country, so I practice on tables which have big pockets. When I come here, they have tight pockets so you can imagine how hard it is for me,” he said

“I’m now in the learning process, getting experienced. I can see a good future for myself,” he added.

Meanwhile, Word No. 48 Chris Wakelin shocked former World champion and world No. 11 Shaun Murphy 4-2 to enter the pre-quarterfinal.

The results (second round): John Higgins (Sco) bt Hossein Vafaei (Irn) 4-3 (69-23, 71-22, 73-30, 1-106 (106), 45-82, 1-71, 128(128)-0);  Chris Wakelin (Eng) bt Shaun Murphy (Eng) 4-2 (13-85, 65-28, 16-109, 58-23, 72-18, 74-60); Stuart Bingham (Eng) bt John Astley (Eng) 4-2 (0-94, 123 (123)-1, 67-36, 0-81, 70-32, 69-38); Anthony Hamilton (Eng) bt Zhao Xintong (Chn) 4-2 (80-50, 72-17, 77-7, 5-77, 48-68, 75-44); Sam Craigie (Eng) bt Peter Ebdon (Eng) 4-1 (63-57, 112-1, 67-12, 0-108 (108), 76-1); Graeme Dott (Sco) bt Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Tha) 4-1 (73-48, 13-59, 78-25, 77-4, 68-32); Lyu Haotian (Chn) bt Luke Simmonds (Eng) 4-3 (0-83, 0-61, 119 (114)-5, 67-14,  49-61, 71-46, 69-55); Li Hang (Chn) bt Joe Perry (Eng) 4-2 (77-30, 0-102, 2-94, 70-31, 126 (109)-0, 120 (116)-22); Lu Ning (Chn) bt Yan Bingtao (Chn) 4-0 (81-1, 76-1, 93-0, 57-21); Mark Davis (Eng) bt Yuan Sijun (Chn) 4-2 (25-72, 50-33, 70-56, 33-72, 55-16, 61-60).