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Brilliant Asif fights back to claim fourth national snooker title

KARACHI: Playing like a true champion with his prestige at stake, incumbent world champion and top seed Mohammad Asif fought back from a 4-7 deficit to overpower former national champion Shahid Aftab 8-7 in an agonising National Snooker Champ­ionship final to capture the title for an overall fourth time here at Karachi Gymkhana on Wednesday.

Asif, who had survived Asjad scare in the semi-final on Tuesday, was in hot water again when he combined his act together to post an enthralling 21-69, 80-73, 67-20, 26-49, 42-77, 25-106, 35-69, 1-76, 116-0, 88-2, 0-107, 78-32, 72-35, 62-48, 70-28 victory as curtain fell on the 45th edition of the national event. The final lasted six hours.

This is the fourth time Asif has laid his hands on the national trophy, the previous being in 2009, 2012 and 2018. This is also his third victory on the trot on the domestic circuit — the NBP Cup, the third ranking and 45th national’s.

Shahid had won the national title once in 2011 defeating Imran Shahzad besides winning a ranking event against Abdul Sattar in 2013 out of four finals that he played. He lost to Asjad in the NBP Cup final in 2017.

Asif, a Grade II officer in National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and father of a son and a daughter, described the final as tough and could have gone either way after the neck-and-neck contest was 7-7 when his rich experience helped him win the decisive frame.

Asif commended the re-emergence of Shahid among the top fray of domestic circuit after a long time due to sheer hard work.

For Shahid it was so near yet so far. He was 6-2 and 7-4 up in the match when untimely errors cost him the title.

“Missing some easy shots at crucial times when I needed just one frame to wrap up changed the complexion,” a dejected Shahid told Dawn.

Both the old guards who belonged to Faisalabad and have played and grew up together have seized No.1 and 2 spots in the new national rankings to be released later besides qualifying for the Asian meet being held in Doha in April.

Except for gaining a 2-1 lead, thanks to the breaks of 69 and 63 in the second and third frames, the two-time world champion lost the initiative and trailed until drawing level at 7-7 finally winning the last frame. He also had two breaks of 58 and 72 in the ninth and 12th frames to his credit.

Shahid, meanwhile, conjured up breaks of 68, 71 and 85 in the sixth, eighth and 11th frames.

A beaming Asif received a cheque of Rs100,000 and glittering winning trophy while Shahid earned Rs50,000 and the runner-up trophy from Jubilee Insurance and PBSF officials.

Babar Masih, who left for Rawalpindi, earned Rs10,000 for the highest break (139) of the championship.

Meanwhile, responding to a query, Asif informed that his employers NBP had presented him $5,000 for the recent world title feat at Antalya.

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