KOCHI: Hossein Vafaei tries to laugh it off. But the young cueist — the first ever professional snooker player from Iran — admits to the torment he has gone through in his short career. “I used to get depression during that time. I had a very bad feeling,” the 24-year-old said about a phase he doesn’t like to remember. Vafaei was making rapid progress in the sport and his talent was evident after he won the 2011 World Amateur Snooker Championship held in Bengaluru. Only 17 at the time, he became the youngest ever to win the event.
Another semifinal finish at the 2012 Asian Snooker Championship was further indication that he was a special talent. The youngster from Abadan was on his way to creating history by entering the pro circuit. Eligible to enter the circuit in the 2012/13 season thanks to his World Amateur title, the Iranian was ready to begin his ‘golden years’ in the sport. Instead, Vafaei had to endure two years of isolation — the ordeal he likes to erase from his memory.
Due to reasons beyond his control — largely political — he had trouble acquiring visas that denied him opportunities to play in professional tournaments. “It was very tough for me during those two years. I lost two golden years of my life. I don’t want to think about that anymore because I have moved past it and I don’t want to talk about the past.”
Eventually, Vafaei made history in the 2015-16 season after getting a long-awaited visa and took part in the 2015 World Snooker Championship. Being the first Iranian to play professional snooker has been and continues to be a challenge for Vafaei. “It is very difficult because when you are the first person, people keep looking up to you. They want to learn from you. You have to be careful of what you are doing, about how you are talking, walking, everything. This is difficult for me. “Nobody was there to help me learn when I started.
Everything I did was by myself. I have a lot of problems and I don’t have a response (to questions about it). I don’t have a base to practice. I sponsor myself for tournaments. It is hard to go to different countries without a sponsor.”
Despite the hardships, Vafaei is focusing on letting his snooker do the talking. In 2017, he reached the semifinal of the China Open and quarterfinals at the English Open. In 2018, he reached the last 16 of the China Open and had a good showing at the International Championships. He came into the ongoing Indian Open after a semifinal finish at the Welsh Open held in February. “The first year on the tour was very tough for me. I didn’t have any experience and I didn’t play in any tournament. It was very difficult but I learned. I am not stupid you know,” the World No 33 said.
On Friday, he played out a thrilling game against defending champion and World No 4 John Higgins, which he lost 4-3. Nevertheless, he was upbeat. “I am playing well and my game is at the highest standard. It’s a great feeling.”