Ronnie O’Sullivan and Hossein Vafaei renew their rivalry in the Semi-Finals of the 2023 UK Championship in York on Saturday.
The pair infamously met in the World Championship back in April following a war of words, but it was O’Sullivan who ultimately let his cue do the talking by thrashing Vafaei 13-2 in the Last 16 with a session to spare.
The two players left The Crucible arena in a warm embrace and the build-up to their latest encounter appears to be much more sedate, albeit the occasion is arguably just as big.
O’Sullivan is the most decorated player in the history of the UK Championship, having claimed the first of his 39 career ranking titles at this event 30 years ago.
The Rocket eclipsed Steve Davis’ joint record of UK Championship titles when he triumphed at The Barbican in 2018 and is looking to add to that tally and secure a first ranking title since the 2022 World Championship.
The world number one is making only his second tournament appearance on UK soil this season, having withdrawn from a number of events including the Champion of Champions and Northern Ireland Open in order to prioritise his schedule in China.
O’Sullivan clinched a fifth Shanghai Masters title in September and was a semi-finalist in the recent International Championship in Tianjin.
He began his campaign in York with a 6-2 victory over Anthony McGill, reeling off six frames on the spin from 2-0 down to surge through, before again recovering from two down to edge out Robert Milkins in a last-frame decider.
The 47-year-old held his nerve to come through another tense deciding frame in the Quarter-Finals at the expense of Zhou Yuelong, recovering from a mid-game lapse.
Vafaei, meanwhile, finds himself in a first Triple Crown event Semi-Final as he continues to make history for Iran and maintains his rise among the world’s top 16.
The 2022 Shoot Out champion, who has also reached the Semi-Finals of the British Open this season, began by dumping out former champion Shaun Murphy 6-4, before thrashing a helpless Matthew Selt 6-1.
He then overcame newly-crowned International Champion Zhang Anda 6-4 – taking his tally of centuries for the tournament to seven in the process.
Vafaei will be determined to avenge his crushing defeat to O’Sullivan in Sheffield earlier this year, during which he notably smashed into the reds from the break-off.
O’Sullivan has won three of their four previous meetings, with Vafaei’s only win coming courtesy of a 5-0 whitewash in the German Masters qualifiers last year.
The match gets under way from 1pm GMT and will be contested over the best of 11 frames, with either 2011 champion Judd Trump or three-time champion Ding Junhui awaiting the winner in Sunday’s final.
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