Gold for Rachel Arnold and Sanjay Singh in Singapore
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor in Singapore
Malaysia made a clean sweep of individual events at the 2015 South East Asian Games as Sanjay Singh and Rachel Arnold struck gold in their maiden appearance of the multi-sport event after beating fellow Malaysian compatriots.
While Malaysia did not send their top players to the event, the young team packed enough firepower to ensure all gold and silver medals of the individual event belonged to them.
Battle Of Best Buddies
The men’s final was contested between best friends Sanjay Singh and Addeen Idrakie. The pair of 21-year-olds, whose rivalry dates back to their junior days, gave the packed gallery a delightful display of speed and shot making, often drawing oohs and aahs from the audience.
The left-handed Sanjay celebrated his highest PSA ranking this month with a gold medal without dropping a game, after winning 11-7, 11-3, 12-10 against his visibly exhausted friend.
After a tight first game, Sanjay ran away with the second as Addeen seemed to have ran out of steam halfway through. But, like the fighter he is known to be, Addeen came back strongly in the third and had led most of it.
At 10-9 up, a punishing rally ensued and pretty much put a nail into the coffin for Addeen. The effects of the morning match certainly took its toll as he lost the next two points to give Sanjay the match.
“It’s definitely a great win for me. But of course, it’s never nice beating my best friend on and off court. But a win is a win and it’s a good way for me to move forward”, said a delighted Sanjay, who threw his racket up in elation after clinching the winning point.
“I started rather slowly because of the long morning match. Bryan Koh is a good player and he dragged me to five games. It’s hard to recover on the same day. But credit to Sanjay, he’s on form and played very well. There was nothing I could do really”, said the graceful silver medallist.
In the semi-finals earlier in the day, Sanjay had a relatively easy match against host Singapore’s Samuel Kang, dropping a total of 12 points in a 3-0 victory.
On the other hand, Addeen was stretched to the limit by Harvard-based Koh, also of Singapore, who has to be commended for a great show. Many times, it seemed that the Singaporean was down and out, but the cheering crowd behind was always there to bring out his second wind.
Little Arnold Stamps Her Mark
Having had rather discouraging results in the month of May on the professional circuit, world number 66 Rachel Arnold turned things around by justifying her top billing and striking gold here at the SEA Games.
What sweeter way to do so than having mom Sheryl, brother Timothy and sister Delia, the world number 15, cheering away in the stands.
Both players seem to have huge lapses of concentration at different junctures of the match. Rachel started off very well to take a 4-1 lead before falling behind 6-10, after which she drew level and holding game ball herself, only to lose out with some sloppy play.
In the second, Rachel forged ahead with a commanding 10-3 lead. This time, it was Vanessa, the Penang based 19 year old, who came back with six straight points, with half of them contributed by Rachel who sent backhand drops into the tin. Rachel did manage to hang on to close the game.
In the third and fourth, there was little resistance from Vanessa as Rachel starts to attack more and finds her rhythm. The commanding nature of Rachel’s game seem to have thrown Vanessa off the track, who a few times gave up on some rallies.
An emotional Rachel, who shed tears of joy right after the match, said afterwards “It’s my first games and my first gold, so I’m very excited about it. It’s my biggest win so far.”
“It was a tough match against Vanessa. My game plan was to volley as much as I can. In the second game, I lost focus a little and maybe got a bit over confident and allowed her to catch up.”
“It means a lot to me to have my family here. They have come all the way from Kuala Lumpur to watch me play.”
Rachel had defeated Singapore’s Mao Shi Yuan and Vanessa had ended the giant-killing run of Philippines’ Jemyca Aribado, the 21-year-old who had taken out the 8th and 3-4 seeds in the earlier rounds.
Now on to the team events
With the individual titles already in the bag, it sets things up nicely for the Malaysians in the team event. While on paper, Malaysia should walk away with the titles, but always, things can be rather unpredictable in team events.
The Malaysian girls would seem to be a few notches above the rest, judging from the individual event. But in the men’s, hosts Singapore have a team with good depth and could spring a pleasant surprise, especially with the home crowd support.
Singapore Picture Gallery
Pictures by ACTION IMAGES (via Reuters) and ALEX WAN (Squash Mad)