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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Analysis: Asian squash is on the march

Alex Wan
Alex Wan is an avid squash lover who writes, photographs, plays and coaches when he is not making a living with his Finance degree.

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Squash Mad Analysis: Waiting for an all-Asian world final is not merely a pipe dream
By ALEX WAN – Editor, Squash Mad Asian Bureau

Malaysia win silver in Canada
Malaysia win silver in Canada

Before 1990, there was not more than a single Asian nation competing in the Women’s World Team Championships. Hong Kong were the first to take part in 1985 and then India in 1987. In 1990, Malaysia and Singapore joined Hong Kong but were all bundled out in the group stages.

In fact, no Asian country had even gone past the group stages of the Women’s World Team Championships until the turn of the millennium, when Hong Kong and Malaysia created history at the 2000 edition in Sheffield by making the knockout stages.

This year round, at Niagara on the Lake, the same pair of countries capped another feather for Asian squash when both made the semi-finals. Though they were seeded to do so, in a team event, nothing is as straightforward as it seems.

THE DREAM TEAM DETHRONED

Just to prove my point, the Egyptian dream whose entire team was made up of the world’s top ten players, were dethroned by the mighty Malaysians in the semi-finals. Having reached the last four in the previous four editions, the upset had placed Malaysia and Asia in the record books, as neither had been in the final.

The historical win was made possible by wins from Nicol David, who had never lost a match in this event, and Low Wee Wern, the world number 7, who showed nerves of steel in her 86-minutes win against Nour El Sherbini, the world number 4, in what she described as ”probably one of my best matches ever”.

The manner in which Wee Wern took the pace off the ball was simply a sight to behold. I can’t help but to liken this match to the recent men’s world championships final, where Ramy Ashour did exactly the same to his younger compatriot.

After the match, Wee Wern paid tribute to her fellow Penang-ite Nicol David, saying, “I am just so pleased for Nicol. For all these years, she has won for us – and the rest of the team have let her down. Now we have finally done it for her. Nicol is not just a role model for me, but a good friend too – and this is the first time I’ve given her the support she deserves.”

Hong Kong line up before their clash with Egypt
Hong Kong line up before their clash with Egypt

HONG KONG RATTLE ENGLAND

While Malaysia went a step further into the final, Hong Kong fought gallantly against England, the eventual champions. After Laura Massaro had given England the lead, the left handed Joey Chan gave the English camp a scare when she upset the much higher-ranked Alison Waters.

WTjoeywatJoey Chan (right) played the match of her life, the best I’ve seen her play, and simply outplayed the world number five. Not to take away the fact that she had so many brilliant shots, it was the manner in which she deconstructed Alison’s head that was the most impressive.

The match was literally over (in my opinion) after she hit the volley into the corner to end the third game, after which Alison had flung and kicked her racket into that direction.

When asked what the win meant for her, Joey replied, “It will give me a lot of confidence playing the top players in future.

“I proved to myself that I have the ability and potential to be one of them. It felt like a dream to come back 1-1 against such a traditionally strong team (in England).”

The drama was still not over yet. Sarah Jane Perry had started off very well and went into a commanding 10-3 lead. How she managed to lose the first game is just a chocker.

However, she regained her composure to win the next three games to send England into their 11th consecutive final, a statistic that they should truly be proud of.

THE FINAL

There was no fairytale ending for Malaysia as they were edged by England in the final. The English team, who had their ups and downs throughout the week, definitely saved their best for last. Sarah-Jane Perry was nothing like the nervous player she was the day before, peaking at the right time in the games to win 3-0 over an impressive Delia Arnold.

 

Alison Waters on the attack for England
Alison Waters on the attack for England in the final

Nicol David then forced the deciding match by ousting Laura Massaro. So it was down to Low Wee Wern, who had spent nearly an hour and half on court less than 24 hours earlier to face Alison Waters, the experienced world number 5. Like Sarah Jane, she was also nowhere the player she was yesterday.

Her trademark forehand volleys were working and even though Wee Wern took the third game, it was pretty clear who was the better player of the day.

Despite the loss, the Malaysian camp was in high spirits. Former WSA professional Sharon Wee, the Malaysian team manager said, “Being in the final is a fantastic achievement – this is a very special moment for us. I think Malaysia is proud of us today, and we will win it in two years time!”

IT COULD’VE BEEN BETTER

Apart from Hong Kong and Malaysia, the other two Asian representations came from India and China. Asian participation was at its highest in the previous edition, where Japan and debutants South Korea joined the fray. It is rather surprising to not see Japan in the event, as they have never missed a single edition since 2000.

dipnourOf course, there is also the controversy surrounding the Indian camp which remains untold. Why was Dipika Pallikal (right), a gold medal winner with Joshna Chinappa in the Commnwealth Games doubles, not in the team?

India eventually finished in 14th place. Had Dipika been in the team, they shouldn’t have had much trouble making the last eight.

China did well to top their 17/20 seeding bracket, ahead of Spain, Austria and Guatemala. It will surely be interesting to see how far the Chinese will go in this sport.

Should we make the cut for the 2020 Olympics, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find a Chinese in the main draw. I am sure there are plenty of badminton rejects we could convert from a country with a population of close to 1.4 billion.

AN ALL-ASIAN FINAL?

Three Asians are in the top 10 (December 2014), and another four in the top 30. So why not?

Joey Chan thinks so too. “Team events can be so unpredictable and Asian girls are getting much stronger than before. So an all-Asian final in the future is not just a dream.”

 

 

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