Malaysia exact revenge on Indian men to top group and Japan women into last four for the first time
By Kng Zheng Guan and Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Correspondents
There were no major surprises as the top four seeds of the men’s and women’s teams at the Asian Games have all secured themselves a medal. There was however an upset though as Malaysia, seeded third, turned the formbooks around to beat second seeds India 2-1 in the deciding Group B match at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on Thursday.
Malaysia, silver medallists twice since the team event was introduced in 2010, were eager for revenge against India who had beaten them in the 2014 final in Incheon. The Malaysians, featuring a rather new-look team without the likes of long-serving stalwarts Ong Beng Hee and Azlan Iskandar, got off to a flying start when second stringer Ng Eain Yow twice came back to beat Harinderpal Sandhu in the opening tie. The world number 44, who didn’t compete in the individual event, dropped the first and third games against Harinder but came back very strong each time before going on to complete a 7-11, 11-3, 8-11, 11-3, 11-3 win.
That set the tone for Malaysia and world number 60 Ivan Yuen stepped up to dispatch world number 62 Ramit Tandon 11-8, 9-11, 12-10, 11-6, sealing the win in the process. In the dead rubber, both first strings Nafiizwan Adnan and Saurav Ghosal went the full distance but it was the Indian who eventually emerged with an 11-5, 9-11, 11-8, 12-14, 11-7 win. The result mattered little for Malaysia who will happily take the win which confirms their status as Group B winners ahead of India. It also earned them a much fancied semi-final clash with fourth seeds Pakistan while India will have to take on a very tough Hong Kong side.
Top seeds Hong Kong confirmed their status as the pre-tournament favourites as they easily topped Group A, winning all five matches without dropping a single tie. Their key win came on Wednesday when the likes of world number 19 Max Lee, world number 21 Leo Au and world number 25 Yip Tsz Fung all lined up to dismantle Pakistan 3-0. Pakistan, gold medallists in 2010, qualified for the semi-finals as runners-up in the group, beating Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Nepal along the way.
In the women’s event, the seeds progressed as expected with defending champions and top seeds Malaysia cruising to a top placed finish in Group A. Malaysia, led by individual gold medallist Nicol David, Low Wee Wern, Sivasangari Subramaniam and Aifa Azman, also enjoyed a flawless run as they thumped Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Pakistan without dropping a match.
Japan, led by rising teen star Satomi Watanabe, took the runners-up spot but not before a hard fought 2-1 win over South Korea in a do-or-die match. The fourth seeds took the lead when Misaki Kobayashi beat Ahn Eun-chan 12-10, 8-11, 11-5, 11-8 before fifth seeds Korea staged a comeback with Lee Ji-hyun downing Risa Sugimoto 10-12, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8. The 19-year-old Watanabe however won the match for Japan after powering past Yura Choe 11-7, 11-8, 12-10 in the deciding rubber to put the land of the rising sun through to the last four for the very first time.
The Japanese women are into their maiden semi-final
In Group B, second seeds Hong Kong finished top after edging third seeds India 2-1 in the deciding match on Thursday. Hong Kong’s top two duo of Annie Au and Joey Chan won the points by beating Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal respectively. Third string Sunayna Kuruvilla had briefly levelled for India but it proved to no avail. India still qualified as the second ranked team and will take on Malaysia in the last four while Hong Kong entertain Japan.
Meanwhile hosts Indonesia, making their team event debut, proved to be the success story of the Games as they finished a rather surprising third in the group. Indonesia never stood a chance from qualifying for the semi-finals against the likes of Hong Kong and India. But despite being seeded 10th, the hosts played their hearts out as they took out sixth seeds China 2-1, seventh seeds Iran 2-1 before wrapping up with a 3-0 thumping of Thailand.
Pictures courtesy of WSF, Japan Squash Association