Incheon: Sourav Ghosal faltered at the doorstep, as 'Messi' Abdullah Almezayen added a Houdini act to his repertoire, to deny India's first-ever squash gold at Asian Games and instead win his country's first-ever squash medal.
Abdullah was once famously called as the 'Lionel Messi of Squash' in Malaysia. "I loved that; who does not like Messi, I do, too," he blushed and said after the match. While it may not be possible the compare Abdullah's skills with those of Messi, based on his Tuesday's performance an additional sobriquet could be bestowed on: 'The Houdini of Squash'.
Abdullah escaped a match point to beat Ghosal 10-12, 2-11, 14-12, 11-8, 11-9.
If rallying from a one game to two deficit in the semi-finals against World No. 20 Lee Ho Yin Max was not enough, he came back from the brink of a 'match-ball' in the third game, after losing the first two, to stage one of the finest comebacks in Asian Games squash history.
Poised at 12-11 in the third after winning the first two games, Ghosal, a massive favourite before the final, stood on the doorstep of victory.
Just as he was about walk out of it Abdullah pulled him back in and turned the match on its head to walk out a winner instead.
After 90 dramatic minutes of mentally draining and bruising squash in a crucible, the two gladiators emerged - one holding the gold medal and the other grappling with thoughts of 'what-could-be'.
Abdullah dropped to the floor exhausted, while a devastated Ghosal threw his racket up in the air and then rushed out of the glassed caged to the restroom to wash the inevitable tears away.
Saurav Ghosal walks off after being beaten by Kuwait's Abdullah Almezayen (on the floor) in the marathon Asian Games squash final in Incheon yesterday. Pic/AFP
Ghosal said, "It's obviously disappointing to lose the match like that. We all know how good he is. I didn't think I played badly performance-wise. I give credit to Abdullah for how he played today. Congratulations to Abdullah for what he did today."
Abdullah, when reminded of the article which once referred to him as 'Messi of Squash', laughed and said, "I remember that. I liked it very much. Who does not like Messi and I like him too. It was nice to be called that."
Ghosal was graceful while saying, "Some of the shots he executed or even attempted were amazing. He played very well and we are good friends, despite all the tension you might have seen in the match."
Abdullah called his biggest win ever, though he does have a few over top-10 on the circuit. "After the second game I thought I was done. It was over. But I gave it another shot and slowly it worked. It was a very tough match and Saurav played very well. We know each other and are good friends."
Talking of the deciding fifth game, Ghosal said, "I think it was pretty much one-game little shootout. I didn't think I was under any pressure or any greater pressure than I was before the match. He put together some shots that were amazing and difficult to think. He missed a lot in the first half hour. But later on it worked out really well for him. It's very difficult to see what else I could have done in retrospect, but I was playing against someone who reacts so well. "
Ghosal started well moving to 6-3 and then to 10-7 before Abdullah rallied to 10-10 only to lose on extra points at 10-12. In the second Ghosal ran away to lead 9-0 in next to no time and the end seemed near for the Kuwaiti, who then chose to gamble away the second 2-11 to conserve energy for the third game.
But somewhere in Abdullah's mind, thoughts of a comeback had begun. Abdullah slowly but steadily grinded his way back in the third. Brick by brick, he built that path back to glory. His gamble of giving up the second to save his energy had paid off thus far, despite needing to stave off a close call and a match-ball at 12-11 in the third game. He pulled back again to 12-12 and then set up a game-ball at 13-12 and won 14-12.
In the fourth game, after being 1-2, at no stage did Abdullah trail. He stayed a wee bit ahead 6-5, 7-6 and then 9-6 before closing it 11-8.
It was now down to the 'one-game shoot-out'. This time around it was Ghosal who stayed marginally ahead at 3-1, 5-4 and then 7-6. But from thereon Abdullah, now panting and catching his breath after every point and every 'let' (replay of a point because of unintentional block) kept unraveling one stitch at a time and went to 10-7 to set up no less than three match-points. It was still not over, as Ghosal won two points to make it 9-10 at which point the players called for the court to wiped after Abdullah, drenched in sweat, had fallen down.
That gave him just that little bit more time to catch his breath and that last gap helped him produce that final stab and Ghosal was felled. Ghosal implored for a let but the referees ruled 'good'.
Good, it was. Maybe even brilliant for Abdullah, and a tragedy for Ghosal.