Deepak Punia through to final on World Championship debut

The Indian grappler beat Switzerland’s Stefan Reichmuth to make the 86kg freestyle final in Nur-Sultan and clinch India's fourth Olympic quota place for Tokyo 2020

By Naveen Peter ·

Deepak Punia has become just the fifth Indian in history to reach a final at the World Wrestling Championships.

The 20-year-old enjoyed a dominant 8-2 win over Switzerland’s Stefan Reichmuth in the semi-finals of the 86kg freestyle category on Saturday in Nur-Sultan.

After his gold medal at last month's World Junior Championships, Punia is guaranteed at least that in his first senior Worlds appearance.

Deepak Punia beat Stefan Reichmuth in the freestyle 86kg semi-finals at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in Nur-Sultan (photo courtesy United World Wrestling)

In Sunday's final, Iran's Rio 2016 gold medallist Hassan Yazdani stands between him and India's second wrestling world title after Sushil Kumar's triumph at 66kg in 2010.

His namesake Bajrang Punia (no relation) and Ravi Dahiya both won bronze medals on Friday to take India's tally to three after Vinesh Phogat claimed the nation's first medal in the Kazakhstani capital.

No stopping Punia

Punia had to pull off a memorable comeback to beat Carlos Izquierdo in the quarter-finals and secure a quota place at Tokyo 2020.

The Colombian led 6-3 with a minute to go, but the Indian youngster scored with a takedown and then again in the last 15 seconds to take a thrilling 7-6 win.

Up against Reichmuth in his semi-final bout, Punia started cautiously before going on the attack to register a number of takedowns to win the tie.

Leading 1-0 at the halfway point, the Indian youngster gave away his left leg in a moment of carelessness but was quick to capitalise as Reichmuth took too long to bring Punia down. The extra seconds allowed Punia to wriggle his way out and get the Swiss down on the mat for a takedown.

Reichmuth hit back to close the gap to 4-2, but a double leg attack led to another takedown for Punia who then scored again with a gutwrench to wrap up victory 8-2.

Olympic champ next

Punia, who ended India’s 18-year-old wait for a world junior title last month, will line up against one of Iran’s finest wrestlers, Hassan Yazdani, in the final.

As well as his Olympic title from Rio, Yazdani has medals from all three of his World Championship appearances - silver in 2015, gold in 2017 and bronze in 2018.

The 24-year-old has suffered just two defeats at the Worlds, and another victory would secure him a second crown.

Aware one win away from bronze

While Punia was the talk of the day for the Indians, Rahul Aware too made the headlines with his action-packed show in the 61kg freestyle category, a non-Olympic event.

The 27-year-old Commonwealth Games champion was in great form as he beat the likes of Kerim Hojakov of Turkmenistan and local favourite Rassul Kaliyev before losing out to Georgia’s Beka Lomtadze in the semi-finals.

In a quickfire bout, Aware's eagerness to match his opponent’s pace saw him concede silly openings and Lomtadze took advantage to race into a 6-2 lead.

The Indian showed enough fight to rally and close the gap to 8-6.

But another hasty scoring attempt saw Aware being flipped over the shoulder by the Georgian who went on to win 10-6 and reach the final.

Aware will fight for bronze on Sunday against the winner of the bout between Moldova's Mihai Esanu and Tyler Lee Graff of the United States.

End of the road

Mausam Khatri (97kg) and Jitender (79kg) were out of luck in their respective weight classes.

Khatri lost out to the reigning Olympic and two-time world champion Kyle Snyder in the last 16 with the American winning on technical superiority 10-0.

With Snyder surprisingly going out to Azerbaijan's Sharif Sharifov in the semi-finals, there was no repechage spot for Khatri.

Jitender made it to the quarter-finals but was beaten 4-0 Slovakia’s Taimuraz Salkazanov 4-0.

And, as with Khatri, a semi-final defeat to Salkazanov ended Jitender's hopes of a medal.