The 20th edition of the Raintree International Jumbo Doubles Competition was a hit this year and attracted a number of very formidable pairs in the competition. This was a stark contrast to last year’s event where many national level players had opted to skip the event. But given that this is the last jumbo doubles event before the SEA Games in Manila, Philippines in December, the impressive turnout was not very surprising. Apart from host country Philippines, nations competing in the event at biennial multi-sport event took the opportunity to send their competing pairs. The event was made extra special as it was held over the weekend of World Squash Day, which fell on the 12th October 2019.
It was indeed a very great outing for team Singapore, as they bagged both the categories on competition for another repeat of a clean sweep. Samuel Kang and Marcus Phua, both who have won the SEA Games Jumbo Doubles gold medals on separate occasions, teamed up and came out victorious in the Open category, bagging the Tunku Naqiuyuddin Cup. In the Veteran’s, newly elected SSRA president Patrick Thio and former international Victor Koh was simply a class above the competition as the pair walked away with the title with relative ease.
A work commitment on Saturday morning for Samuel meant the winning pair had to play all four matches prior to the final on Saturday afternoon. After a short flight and probably a longer time on the road braving the notorious KL traffic, Samuel arrived and went straight into courts.
It was an easy opener for the pair, but in the next match, the top seeds were given a scare by the Malaysian scratch pair of Lim Kai Zhen and Loshmaan Veerakumar, both very formidable and experienced singles players. Marcus and Samuel dropped their only game throughout the competition to the pair, but their experience in the jumbo doubles game clearly showed when it mattered most.
The tough game seems to have helped them get into their game as they won the remainder of the matches rather comfortably. Even in the final, they were hardly troubled by the second seeds Elvinn Keo and Rob Chen.
Their win here clearly put them as favourites to win gold in Manila. None of the other SEA Games-bound pairs here reached the last-four, with the Indonesian pair being the next best by reaching the last eight. They had done so after taking out the Thai pairing in the last sixteen, while newcomers Brunei bowed out in the second round.
Marcus Phua, who also won the event here last year with Benjamin Sim, was satisfied and happy with how they have done at the event.
“The partnership is great. While we haven’t played together much, both of us have played (jumbo) doubles for many years now, so that experience certainly helps make it easier to play together. Of course, we have a great friendship off the court too, and having known each other and competing together as teammates for many years, it certainly helps to build a good partnership on court as well.”
When asked how he felt coming back into the national team after such a long layoff from competitive squash, he said:
“I have always continued to compete in many jumbo doubles events, probably more than anymore else in the team. Fortunately, I have been doing well in these events and hence, I am confident I am be able to contribute to the team in the jumbo doubles event and hopefully, do well for Singapore at the SEA Games -where we aim to win retain our gold medal. We do know; however, we are up against some strong competition from Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.”
Samuel was equally as confident and comfortable with their partnership and chances at the SEA Games.
“Marcus was my first ever partner in jumbo doubles many years ago. He’s a very experienced doubles player and we have a good understanding on court, so I’m happy with the partnership and result.
“I think we have a good shot at defending our gold medal. Indonesia is improving fast and Philippines will be very strong, especially at home. It won’t be easy, but we’re looking forward to the challenge”, said the Singapore number one.
The women’s performance at the event was also highly commendable, as Au Yeong Wai Yhann and Sherilyn Yang reached the last sixteen before bowing out to coach Vivian Rhamanan and Al Aspen. They later gave a very respectable showing against Thailand’s SEA Games-bound pair in the Classic Plate. Judging from the results, they would also be the favourites of the event, as they did better than their Thai and Indonesian counterparts.
While both the men’s and women’s pair are a very strong bet for the gold medal in Manila, they have a bigger challenge ahead of them, one which is beyond their control. Whether or not the event will be staged is still a question as the construction of the squash complex at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex has yet to be completed. In fact, judging from a report from the Philippines Star, the odds are against them.
Given that the host Philippines were not competing in Kuala Lumpur, do they know something we don’t? Only time will tell. But let’s stay positive and hope for the best.