‘We both knew it was going to be a battle – at the end my quads and calves were going and the calf cramped up as I won’
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)
The phenomenal workload that Paul Coll and Joel Makin put into last night’s brutal battle in the Commonwealth Games men’s singles final certainly took its toll on both players.
Makin began strongly and led by two games to one, but Coll fought back to lift the title for the first time after finishing runner-up to James Willstrop in Gold Coast four years ago.
It was a huge physical and mental exchange and Coll came through in the fifth to win it 3-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8, 11-7 in an absorbing contest lasting 102 minutes.
Both players are renowned as the fittest men in the sport and it was astonishing to hear Coll reveal that his body was breaking down as he defended a big lead in the fifth game.
Coll admitted: “I’m a bit lost for words. It was a massive battle out there and although I tried to concentrate from start to finish, I was getting a bit lost out there at times.
“I’m proud of the way I turned it on in the fourth and the fifth, when it really counted, to come back from 2-1 down.
“I’m ecstatic. I’m over the moon. I’m hurting right now but I couldn’t be happier.”
On the gruelling rallies and the levels of fitness required to perform at that level, Coll added:
“They were asking me in the athletes’ village how the match was going to go and I predicted it would last 80 minutes minimum.
“I was prepared, I think we both were. We’re not stupid – we both know what we bring to the table and we knew it was going to be a battle.
“I think we were both hurting at the end so luckily I had a five-point lead (in the fifth game).
“I’m not going to lie, my quads and calves were going. My calf was in full cramp at the end (when he laid on the floor in celebration after the winning point).
On now turning his attention to the mixed doubles:
“My job is not done. I’m not celebrating until the end of the tournament.
“I’ve got another job to do and me and Joelle (King) will be out there tomorrow giving it everything.
“I’m definitely going to enjoy this gold around my neck. I might sleep with it tonight. In a couple of weeks after I take it off, it’ll go into my trophy cabinet.”
Joel Makin played the match of his life, and for long periods of this brutal encounter he looked like he might bring home the gold for Wales.
On taking the positives from winning Wales’ first ever squash silver medal, he said:
“There are tons of positives from this week. I can’t not appreciate that, but it’s still gutting.
“I couldn’t have done any more today. When I play these matches I leave absolutely everything out there on the court.
“It was always going to go long. He took his chances and his quality was that little bit better in the fourth and fifth games.
“Me and Paul have had some tight matches and that was just another one of those.
“He has been No.1 in the world and the most consistent player this year.
“I was outplaying him for large parts of that match, but his quality was a little bit better at the start of some of the most crucial games.”
On the atmosphere in the arena:
“That was something different! The support this week has been massive from everyone back home. It couldn’t have been better for me.
“It has been brilliant playing in Birmingham all week. All the clubs (in Wales) have been behind me, and all my family and friends.
“I felt at home here. I’ve been based in Birmingham for years. Loads of people have come from Wales and I felt I had loads of support. I was feeding off the atmosphere.”
On improving on his fourth place at the Gold Coast:
“My target was gold this week. Over time I’m going to be happy with that (silver medal). There are positives, but this week I came here for gold.
“I’m going to come back and try and do it again.”
Coll became the first Kiwi to win a singles gold medal after twice coming from behind in an epic encounter with University of Birmingham graduate Makin.
Coll went into the match with an 11-2 head-to-head record over Makin, including a victory from two games down in the semi-finals of the 2018 Games.
This time world No.7 Makin made the ideal start when his attacking strategy caught Coll off guard as he won the first game 11-3.
Makin continued to show excellent ball control in a tight second game, but was unable to prevent an improving Coll, who was ranked World No.1 between March and May of this year, from edging the contest 11-9.
Makin, who enjoyed the vast majority of the crowd’s support, responded fantastically in the third game. The 27-year-old attacked the front of the court with relish to reclaim the lead with an 11-8 win, as the incredible athleticism of both men drew gasps and applause from the fans.
Neither player elected to change the ball for the fourth game, which became a shootout as both men played thrilling squash. Coll, though, was able to keep his nose ahead throughout and took the match into a fifth game with an 11-8 win.
Although Makin continued to throw everything at Coll in the final game, the 2018 runner-up looked ice cold in his bid to erase the pain of four years ago. The Kiwi began to dominate the court and had five gold medal balls at 10-5. Makin went all out and saved two, but Coll eventually brought a thrilling match to an end with an 11-7 win.
After sharing a long embrace with his New Zealand team-mates , Coll said: “I was battling with wanting it too much earlier.
“It’s such an amazing team environment. I was hurting at the end and everyone who came out gave me a lot of energy to push through.
“I’m over the moon and I can’t wait to go back to the village with the gold draped around my neck.”
There was another historic accomplishment in the bronze medal matches as India’s Saurav Ghosal became the first Indian to win a singles medal when he downed 2018 champion James Willstrop.
Ghosal played a brilliant game and constantly nullified Willstrop’s threat with combinations of drops and then accurate lobs over the tall Englishman.
This plan worked well and the Indian took the first game 11-6, before seeing out the match with 11-1 and 11-4 wins.
“Today is the hardest match I’ve ever played. Mentally, it was so hard. I’ve learnt so much from him,” Ghosal said.
Pictures courtesy of World Squash