Nicol David guns for record fifth title while all to fight for in the men’s
By Kng Zheng Guan – Squash Mad Asian Correspondent
Every four years the best of Asia get together for the Asian Games in order to compete for the bragging rights and supremacy in the region. The 2018 Asiad, that starts in Jakarta, Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, will feature athletes from 15 countries as they go in search for the four gold medals – individual (men and women) and team (men and women) – at stake. For the first time since squash was introduced to the Games in 1998, the men’s individual event will be a very open affair as it will not feature any defending champion. As for the women’s individual event, all eyes will be on Malaysia’s eight-time world champion Nicol David as she seeks an unprecedented record fifth gold medal.
An open affair for the men
Kuwait’s Abdullah Al Muzayen pulled off the biggest shocker in Asian Games history when he produced an unlikely comeback against India’s Saurav Ghosal four years ago. World No. 12 Saurav, had looked to be set for his first Asian Games gold in Incheon as he held a two game lead only for the talented Muzayen to turn it around for a 10-12, 2-11, 14-12, 11-8, 11-9 win.
The Kuwaiti is however not participating in this year’s event and Saurav, who turned 32 on Aug 10, has a chance to finally add the individual gold medal to his haul of one silver and two bronzes from three previous editions.
The Indian, who is enjoying his career-best PSA ranking, is seeded to make the final and he opens his campaign on Aug 23 against Sri Lanka’s Shamil Wakeel.
Saurav’s party however can potentially be spoilt by the dangerous Hong Kong pair of Max Lee and Leo Au. World number 19 Max, winner of two PSA titles this year, is the second seed and is drawn to make the final as well. World number 21 Leo, who’s had a memorable season on tour, is seeded joint third-fourth and could line up to face Saurav in the semi-finals.
The dark horse of the event is however the in-form world No. 28 Abdulla Al-Tamimi of Qatar. The 23-year-old claimed his biggest career win – the PSA35 Malaysian Open – in July and has the firepower to upset the odds.
“Winning in Malaysia was part of my preparation for the Asian Games. I would love to keep this form for another good run in Jakarta,” said Tamimi.
The Qatari is also seeded joint third-fourth and takes on Mongolian debutant Oko Davaasuren in the first round. Other notable names looking to make an impact will be Malaysia’s Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Nafiizwan Adnan, who is seeded joint fifth-eighth.
A record fifth for Nicol?
Nicol David has been undisputed in Asia for many years and could be well on course for a record fifth Asian Games individual gold medal. The Penangite who tops the seedings, opens with a first round bye and should cruise through to the quarter-finals to meet Japan’s new sensation Satomi Watanabe. A win will then see her move on to a possible semi-final clash with India’s joint third-fourth seed Dipika Pallikal, who will first have to possibly surpass Japan’s Misaki Kobayashi, who could possibly be playing her final Asian Games.
The eighth-time world champion however has struggled for form and consistency on the PSA Tour lately and her rivals are surely looking to pounce on any weakness shown by the 34-year-old. Chief among them will be Hong Kong’s world number 11 Annie Au who will be the second seed behind Nicol. The 29-year-old left-hander has beaten Nicol once in the 2017 US Open and would surely love to do so at this prestigious regional stage.
Annie is expected to make the quarter-finals where she should face Malaysian number 2 and debutant S. Sivasangari. She should get past the Malaysian youngster where a likely test against India’s joint third-fourth seed Joshna Chinappa in the semi-finals awaits.
Squash Growing in Asia
It is also interesting to note that squash certainly growing in this region. A total of 15 nations have submitted entries for both the individual and team events, including the likes of Singapore, Iran and Thailand who are back in the Games for the first time since squash’s debut in 1998.
Among the debutant nations are the likes of Mongolia, Macau, Nepal and hosts Indonesia. It is certainly encouraging to see the lesser known squash nations putting up the effort even though they may not do as well compared to the traditional powerhouse such as Malaysia, Hong Kong or India.
For Mongolia’s Oko Davaasuren, the chance to compete in the Asiad is certainly a dream come true.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be able to represent Mongolia for the Asian Games,” said the 33-year-old who is based in Singapore.
“It is a dream for me and I look forward to walking amongst the many incredible athletes during the opening ceremony.
I also certainly look forward to playing my part in further developing the sport among the younger people in Mongolia,” added Oko.
Pictures by PSA, The Star and Japan Squash Association