While Sneha Sivakumar made global headlines with her unbelievable feat of making the last eight in the individual event, the boys on the other hand, were given a rude, but somewhat expected, awakening. Given that the boys have had limited exposure to top level junior squash, they were pretty much going into the unknown.
Apart from top junior Aaron Liang, all the others crashed out easily in the opening round of 128. Matthew was bundled out by USA’s Tiber Worth, Kieren falling to the host nation India’s Yash Fadte and Leonard losing out to Ireland’s Sam Buckley.
Team captain Aaron however, made an impressionable impact, winning 3-0 against Saudi Arabia’s Abdulmajeed Boureggah in the opening round of 128. In the next round of 64 against Swiss Yannick Wilhelmi, the 9-16 seed, he started well and managed to take the first game, before fizzling out in the next 3 games.
Aaron went on to beat Pakistani Muhammad Uzair and South African Mikael Ismail in the Special Plate, before bowing out very closely to Argentine, Miguel Gonzalo Pujol in what he described as his most memorable match at the event.
“At 9-10 match ball down in the fifth, my opponent had to take time off to nurse a bleeding knee. As soon as he got back on court to restart, my toes started cramping and I was unable to stand straight. I had to play on and I eventually lost 10-12. It may not have been the outcome I wanted, but it was definitely my most memorable match.”
In the team event, the boys were fortunate enough to be grouped with powerhouse and eventual champion Egypt and six-time champions Australia. This truly gave them a taste of top level junior squash and expectedly, they were no match for either nation. The team eventually finished 20th true to their seeding, ahead of Finland, Qatar, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia.
The boys and Sneha should count their lucky stars for having had the opportunity to experience the World Juniors, thanks to the generosity of the TECHNOFORM Group who sponsored the team to the event.
It is apparent that the Singapore juniors are quite a few notches below the world’s best, but being there this time round could well be the first step inching to close the gap. SGSquash caught up with the quartet to hear what they thought and learnt from the experience.
What have you realised or learned from playing on the world stage?
Aaron: The importance of preparation – not just physically warmed-up, but also mentally tuned and being calmed. One of the main issues (for me) when facing much better players is having to deal with nerves and one way which I have learned to manage it is to accept, embrace it, and play through it. In addition to this, I realised the top players were efficient in their movement, thus not wasting unnecessary energy. Their unforced errors were rare and ball control immaculate.
Kieren: We can’t get away with the way we play in Singapore on this stage. The basic game is really important and you don’t necessarily need the best kills to win your matches.
Leonard: I need to be physically stronger, fitter and faster. I need to train much harder than I currently do, plus put in a lot of work on my game sense and shot selection.
Matthew: I’ve learnt that squash is not just about the swing or strokes, but physicality and movement play a big part. I’ve also learnt that mental preparation and having a game plan is important.
All four have collectively admitted there is a lot of work that needed to be done by themselves to bridge the gap in standards.
Having said that, and to manage expectations, it must also be recognised that the intensity and hours spent in training in Singapore is far behind the top nations.