Singapore celebrate Jumbo Doubles glory in SEA Games
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
It’s been 20 years since Singapore won a South East Asian Games gold in squash.
For a country which dominated the sport in the region for a long time, 20 years is surely a very long wait. With the other four golds already won by neighbours Malaysia, it was down to Vivian Rhamanan and Marcus Phua to bring glory to the republic.
Right from the start, the target has always been to win the jumbo doubles event, which is making a debut in the South East Asian Games. On paper, the pair shouldn’t have much trouble doing so. But it is this fact that leads to immense pressure and expectations being built up for the duo.
But the pair of best friends lived up to the pressure and their top billing to deliver Singapore’s 83rd gold medal in the games after beating Indonesia’s Ade Furkon and Sandi Perdana in the final played at the Tanglin Club.
Marcus, the 27 year old consultant later said, “The pressure was immense (for us to win), but Vivian and I were confident going into the event. We knew we had the understanding, fitness and experience to gain an edge over our opponents. I’m really happy that it turned out in our favour in the end, because it certainly wasn’t easy.”
Marcus and Vivian had both taken six months off their professional career to fully train for this event, and this win certainly made that sacrifice more than worth it.
Earlier in the semi-finals, Vivian and Marcus easily saw off Thailand’s Chatchawin Tangjaitrong and Phuwis Poonsiri, the second seeds who were upset by the Indonesian pair in the earlier round. The Indonesians meanwhile, overcame the determined Filipino pairing of David Pelino and Ricky Espinola.
In the start of the final, the first four points was shared between the two pairs, before the Singaporeans broke away with a three point lead to 5-2. They then dropped a point before winning the next six to wrap up the first game 10-3 after 18 minutes of play.
The second game was a much tighter affair with the Indonesians coming back strongly each time Singapore took the lead. Vivian and Marcus did have a two point cushion at 2-0 and 3-1, after which it was point for point all the way to 8-all, with the Indonesians taking the lead only once at 5-4.
From 8-all, the top seeds reeled off three consecutive points, with the match wining point courtesy of Ade Furkon sending a boast into tin, which sent the Singaporean duo turning around to face the crowd and screamed in delight, who have played a pivotal role all week throughout the duration of the event.
At the Tanglin Club, many squash fans had turned up to witness this historic event only to be turned away due to limited spaces available for spectators. Even at the Kallang Squash Centre, where the individual and team events were held, many had to settle for a live television feed in an adjacent court after the gallery (and its walkway) were packed to the brim.
The rush of squash fans to the venues certainly proves that the sport is a lot more popular than it was and the existing infrastructure to cater to them is nowhere near adequate.
As Vivian puts it aptly, “Witnessing the chaos among the spectators definitely sparks revival of the sport. Now it’s up to Singapore SRA and Singapore Sports Institute to come up with a solid plan to contain this revival and take it back to where it was, or even better. We can’t just rest on our South East Asian Games success and hope for the best.”
Vivian’s sentiments was certainly shared by the chef-de-mission of Singapore, Nicholas Fang, who was there to witness the final. He added, “This gold medal will hopefully galvanise and remind people how exciting squash can be, and put squash back on the map.”
“But the critical problem the sport faces in Singapore is the lack of infrastructure – the courts that we have are limited in number and not able to accommodate large audiences. We need large audiences who will come to watch the games, along with more squash courts so more kids can start to play.”
In fact, not only has the popularity of squash grown in Singapore. The first time participation of Myanmar in squash at this multi-sport event and the success story of the relatively unknown Filipino girl Jemyca Aribado, who won the bronze in the women’s individual, is a testament that the sport is also growing in the region.
Pictures by Reuters