Malaysia and Singapore renew rivalry as squash welcomes a new nation
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
There was plenty of squash action in the south-east Asian region last week as Singapore hosted the inaugural Marigold South East Asian Cup and the first Annual General Meeting of the South East Asian Squash Federation.
The events on the island, which all took place in the beautiful Singapore Island and Country Club, served as the perfect build-up to the upcoming South East Asian Games in June, where squash will be making a comeback to the multi-sport event after an absence of seven years.
A total of seven teams from six countries participated in the mixed team event, which had a rather unique format of two men’s singles, two women’s singles and a men’s jumbo doubles. Apart from hosts Singapore, the others in the fray were Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Thailand, who had sent in two teams.
The event would not have been possible without the generous support from Mr.Patrick Thio and Marigold, both long-time supporters of squash in Singapore.
Malaysia Deny Hosts Of Title
Malaysia and Singapore, both powerhouses in the region, cruised into the final. Malaysia had beaten Indonesia and Singapore beat Philippines in the semi-finals.
The rivalry between the two finalists have a long history, and it has been a while since the two had met, so this was a meeting that many had hoped for.
Vivian Rhamanan had given the hosts a perfect start when he beat an exhausted Muhammad Hannan in straight games to the loss of just 17 points. After clinching his winning point, Vivian had pointed to his team mates in the crowd, who went into a frenzy.
The top Singapore ranked player later paid tribute to Ong Beng Hee, whom he spent training with for a week just before the event for his good performance throughout the week. “He helped me a lot and I’m definitely going back for more.”
With the tie 1-0 in favour to the hosts and knowing well they have the clear advantage in jumbo doubles, a possible upset was in the books.
However, Zulhijjah Azan then got things back on track for the Malaysians when levelled the score with a composed performance, beat Nur Adawiyah 11-8, 11-7, 11-9. While the scoreline for the games may have been rather close, but the Malaysian was always in in control throughout.
With Muhammad Hannan unfit to play due to exhaustion and having no reserves in the team, Malaysia was left without a choice but to give a walkover in the jumbo doubles.
Next, Teh Min Jie and Singapore’s Jerryca Teo got on court, where a win for Singapore would rewrite the history books, giving Singapore a first win over their rivals in many years, and a win for Malaysia would send the tie into a rubber.
Teh Min Jie, the unsung hero for Malaysia at the Asian Junior Teams, once again played hero when she outclassed Jerryca Teo.
The stage was then left to top Malaysian national junior Mohammad Syafiq Kamal and Singapore’s Marcus Phua to bring glory to their countries.
Mohammad Syafiq Kamal, who can be prone to errors, did nothing of that today, as he played some near error-free squash in the first 2 games, winning 11-3 and 11-6.
The third was a close affair, but the young Malaysian did enough to make sure it never went to a fourth and clinching the tie.
Squash Grows In The Region, and A New Kid On The Block
While the Malaysia-Singapore tie was an exciting one, the more thrilling thing was the participation of Myanmar, who were competing in their first ever team event.
It was only in December that the players had took part in their first tournament, the Singapore Squash Open.
They were outplayed by every single opponent here, but in accordance with what the father of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, once said, “The important thing in is not winning, but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well.”
The participation of Philippines, who participated despite only having men in their team, and Thailand, both nations who are still relatively new in the sport at this level, is further testament that squash is growing in the region.
That expansion is also attributed to the work of the South East Asian Squash Federation, which was formed only a year ago during the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.
At their Annual General Meeting held concurrently with the South East Asian Cup, they had welcomed new members Thailand and Myanmar into the fold.
Pictures by ALEX WAN