Ronnie O’Sullivan shows true colours after World Open loss to nemisis | Other | Sport

Ronnie O’Sullivan was widely praised for his reaction to defeat in the deciding frame to Hossein Vafaei in the World Open fourth round. The Rocket lost 5-4 to his Iranian opponent and could have flown off the handle given their history together, but instead took a different approach.

In Yushan, China, where O’Sullivan loves to compete, he was tasked with overcoming Vafaei and the pair played out their first-ever close-fought encounter. Previously, their fiery clashes ended with one of them ending up as a runaway winner but with a place in the quarter-finals on the line, Thursday’s clash was a tense affair.

O’Sullivan did not hold the lead at any stage as Vafaei claimed only his second victory over the Rocket to set up a clash in the final eight against either Ding Junhui or Shaun Murphy. Despite a sub-par performance by the world No. 1 by his standards, O’Sullivan had chances to take the game.

Tied at 4-4 in a winner-takes-all frame, O’Sullivan potted the final red and was in pole position to take the decider. However, a surprising miss on the black handed momentum back to Vafaei, who rattled in a long yellow on his way to an impressive victory.

And having taken part in a war of words previously following their conduct on the snooker table, few would have been surprised if O’Sullivan was a sore loser against one of his arch-rivals.

Instead, the 48-year-old had a big smile on his face and congratulated Vafaei on his victory, prompting Eurosport commentator Neal Foulds to explain: “O’Sullivan couldn’t quite get over the line. He’s gracious in defeat.”

O’Sullivan’s reaction marks a stark difference from two years ago, when Vafaei kicked off their feud by insisting that the legendary player should retire to create more opportunities for the younger generation.

It wasn’t their first dust-up, as O’Sullivan smashed into the pack during their German Masters clash in 2021 to essentially give up the frame and bring the match into controversy.

Vafaei returned the favour when they met at the World Championship last year, sending the reds all over the table to begin the frame. O’Sullivan mopped them up on the way to a 13-2 drubbing at the Crucible, having been accused of “disrespect” previously by Vafaei.

However, the pair have since buried the hatchet and enjoy their meetings on tour together, illustrated by O’Sullivan’s kind sharing of respect for his opponent after being dumped out of the World Open.

It was a similar story at the World Championship last April as they hugged and smiled at one another, ending their public feud once and for all.

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