Saturday, December 9, 2023

Malaysians march on with team titles at SEA Games


 Malaysia celebrate with WSF patron YAM Tunku Tan-Sri Imran ibni Tuanku Jaafar (left)

Superb Singh silences Singapore crowd in final showdown
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor in Singapore


Malaysia continued their domination in the region with another two gold medals in the men’s and women’s team events at the South East Asian Games in Singapore to finish their campaign with a total of four golds and two silvers.

The team event was participated by 40 athletes representing six countries; hosts Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Myanmar, who were taking part in the squash event of the South
East Asian Games for the first time. With the exception of Philippines, who only sent a men’s team, all the other nations took part in both the men’s and women’s event.

Ever since squash was first introduced into this biennial event in 1991, Singapore and Malaysia have been the dominating countries. With squash being left out in the last three editions of the games, the stage was set for a showdown once again between the two nations. But this did not turn out as anticipated.

Singapore women shocked

Hosts Singapore, the second seeds in the women’s event, were shocked by Indonesia in their group match. The loss proved costly as it would later draw them against favourites Malaysia in the semi finals.

Yeni Rohmah, the 24 year old from Bandung, set the ball rolling when she ousted Singapore veteran Joannah Yue in four closely contested games. It was down to Nur Adawiyah Abdul Aziz to salvage the tie for the hosts. Despite being two games up, she was unable to find the third. Catur Yuliana completed the upset by beating individual bronze medallist Mao Shi Yuan in five games.

One-sided semi-finals

With the win over Singapore, the Indonesians were drawn against Thailand. They duly checked into their first final of the SEA Games squash event in a lop-sided semi final, winning the whole tie in just 26 minutes of play.

Singapore’s exit means that this could possibly be the first time ever in the history of the games that they will not be featuring in the squash team final.

In the other semi final, individual event gold and silver medallists, Rachel Arnold and Vanessa Raj took out their Singaporean opponents with relative ease. The pair did face some resistance in the middle of each game, but never really looked threatened. The Malaysian girls were simply a class above their opponents.

The winning women's team (l-r) Vanessa Raj, Zulhijjah Azan, Rachel Arnold and Teh Min Jie
The winning women’s team (l-r) Vanessa Raj, Zulhijjah Azan, Rachel Arnold and Teh Min Jie

Young Malaysian Team Halts Indonesia

Just like in the semi final, the 19-year old pair of Vanessa Raj and Rachel Arnold delivered for the Malaysians. Vanessa Raj took to court first against Yeni Rohmah, the 24 year old from Bandung, who showed nerves of steel against her more illustrious opponent.

She put up a commendable showing in the early parts of the first two games, but each time, she fizzled out towards the end. In the third, she was a spent force after doing most of the running in the first two.

Rachel Arnold, dubbed the little Arnold amongst the Malaysian press, sealed victory for the Malaysians and a second gold medal for herself with an emphatic win against Catur Yuliana in just under 20 minutes of court time.

Singapore’s Samuel Kang fades after a good start in men’s final

There was no such upset whatsoever in the men’s event, with both Singapore and Malaysia over powering all their opponents rather comfortably. This sets up a mouth watering final between them, and an overcrowded gallery set the stage for a fiery encounter.

Samuel Kang got the hosts to a dream start when he managed to squeeze in the first game against individual silver medallist Addeen Idrakie, having saved a game ball at 9-10, and then winning the next three rallies to go ahead in the first tie. That sent the crowd into a loud frenzy, which his opponent later said in the post-match interview, was made him a little nervous.

Addeen came back a much more composed player in the next game, injecting more pace into his game. But his opponent, driven by the ferocious support, stayed in most part of the next three games. But each time, he was playing catching up and it was the more experienced Malaysian who manages to close out the games to give Malaysia the lead.

Singapore's Samuel Kang (front) comes just short against Addeen Idrakie in the opening tie.
Singapore’s Samuel Kang (front) comes just short against Addeen Idrakie in the opening tie.

Sanjay Singh humbles rival and silences the crowd

The next tie must have been the most anticipated one of all. Vivian Rhamanan, the golden boy of Singapore squash, is known to be a team player, often lifting his game to another level in team events. His opponent, the young Malaysian Sanjay Singh, who had just a few days ago won the individual gold.

What had looked to be a fiery encounter turned out to be one of the most one-sided matches of the team event. No game lasted more than five minutes each and it sent everyone in the stands, myself included, into a shock.

Sanjay Singh played flawless squash. There was not a single tinge of doubt in people’s minds who would walk out the winner of this tie. The crowd was silenced for most of the time, except for occasions where their golden boy won a point. But they were a knowledgeable crowd and were appreciative for the Malaysian’s talent.

A dejected Vivian said later, “They (Malaysia) are the power house. We are the underdogs. We wanted to do well. And I think we put too much pressure on ourselves.”

The happy men's team after winning Malaysia's fourth squash gold (l-r) Valentino Bong, Addeen Idrakie, Syafiq Kamal, Sanjay Singh, team physio Zariff and coach Mika Monto
The happy men’s team after winning Malaysia’s fourth squash gold (left to right) Valentino Bong, Addeen Idrakie, Syafiq Kamal, Sanjay Singh, team physio Zariff and coach Mika Monto

Not As Easy As It Seems

While the score line may suggest a walk in the park, Sanjay said: “It may look easy from the score line, but it definitely wasn’t for me. I had to keep playing at that high pace and keep a positive mindset throughout, so no, it wasn’t easy at all.”

“It started with Addeen. He delivered the first point for us, which made me more relaxed and allowed me to play with a free mind, which is what I did.”

Addeen then added: “I’m proud to have contributed to this gold medal for the team.

Malaysia’s coach Mika Monto commended on his charges, “When we came here, we were expected to win everything. We had nothing much to win and everything to lose. So I’m really happy with the way our guys and girls handled that kind of pressure.”

Singapore looks to Jumbo Doubles

Singapore can now look to the men’s jumbo doubles for gold, where they are the favourites to win. Vivan Rhamanan will be partnering good friend Marcus Phua. The pair have been on a winning streak in this event, having won the last two tournaments they participated in.

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