It’s not every year that the Singaporean juniors get the opportunity to compete at the very highest level of junior squash. The team, consisting of Aaron Liang, Leonard Lee, Josiah Chong, Jerome Aw, Zacheus Yeo, Paige Hill, Sonya Bajaj, Joy Lim and Gracia Chua were given the valuable opportunity to participate at the 2019 WSF World Junior Squash Championships in neighbouring Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
This year’s edition saw the boys’ and girls’ individual events, and the girls’ team event. Powerhouse Egypt dominated all the events once again, with the individual finals both all-Egyptian affairs. Top seeds Mostafa Asal, who is already 29th in the world on the senior tour, bagged his second title. In the girls’, Hania El Hamammy finally capped off her illustrious junior career with her maiden crown after playing second fiddle the last two years. The Egyptian girls then halted a spirited display from the hosts Malaysia in the final to complete a clean sweep once again.
While there were hits and misses, the star of the Singapore entourage has to be Joy Lim. The unheralded left-hander took her opportunity and made it into the second round of 64 after overcoming Chinese Taipei’s Chen Pin Yu in the opening round. While one might dismiss it as the luck of the draw, credit should still be given to her for playing so calmly in her first major tournament, before she fell to Czech Republic’s Michaela Cepova in the second round.
“I am really glad to be able to get into the second round of the World Juniors, my first major tournament. To play at the world level when I’m still only 14, it is indeed a whole new experience to me. I saw this tournament as Mount Everest – a mountain that I want to scale to reach its peak,” said a very satisfied Joy of her first World Juniors.
Sonya Bajaj also made it into the second round after coming from a game down to beat Switzerland’s Alina Poessl, before falling to joint-ninth seed Sana Ibrahim of Egypt.
Top ranked junior at the event Paige Hill, started off well to win her opening game against Korea’s Shin Yu Jin, but then faded away to lose her opening round.
Of the five boys, only Aaron Liang managed to get through the opening round of 128. Zacheus Yeo, Leonard Lee and Jerome Aw fell in straight games in their matches, while Josiah Chong gave a much better performance, losing in four close games to Abel Sheng Jin of Australia.
Aaron had come into the event with a high target of reaching the last sixteen, but was given a rude awakening.
He started off with a bang, beating New Zealand’s Riley-Jack Vette-Blomquist in straight games. But in the next round, he let slip a lead to lose to England’s Jared Carter. It was a match he would have wanted to win, as it would then give him the experience of sharing court space with eventual World Junior Champion Mostafa Asal in the round of 32.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t perform my best at the World Juniors due to the pressure leading up to it from the many months of preparation. Moreover, the exhaustion from the two tournaments leading up to it definitely took its toll during the tournament,” explained Aaron.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to achieve his own target in his last junior event, Aaron was optimistic of his transition into the senior ranks after this.
“Moving forward, I aim to perform in the local PSA circuits leading up to my first SEA Games in the Philippines. It won’t be easy making that transition from junior to senior, but I’m certain that I will give it my best shot,” added Aaron.
Aaron’s teammates Zacheus and Josiah were also not too discouraged by their performance and savoured the experience of competing at such a high level.
“It was a very eye-opening experience playing with the top juniors of the world and being able to watch them in action. Playing against some of them made me realise how far my standard is from the top”, said Zacheus.
Josiah Chong, meanwhile, said, “Going for World Juniors was a fantastic experience. Seeing all the top players filled with passion was just amazing and inspiring. I’ve realised I have to whack the ball less (hard) and try to implement a proper game plan. I’ve learned the importance of setting up, stepping out, being patient and to look out for opportunities.
In the girls’ team event, Singapore fielded a young team that included 13-year old Gracia Chua. The team was also considerably weakened by the eleventh-hour pull-out of top player Sneha Sivakumar. The team’s sole win came in their final classification match where we beat event debutants Chinese Taipei to finish 17th.
The girls also had the opportunity to play the mighty Egyptians in their opening group match, with Paige having a fan girl moment with World Junior Champion Hania El Hamammy after losing the opening tie. 13-year old Gracia Chua then put up a fearless display against Farida Mohamed, who was twice her size, in the third tie, and Sonya Bajaj faced Sana Ibrahim for the second time in the event.
R128: Aaron Liang bt Riley-Jack Vette-Blomquist (NZL) 3-0 (5,7,6)
R64: Jared Carter (ENG) bt Aaron Liang 3-1 ((6),5,10,5)
33-64: Aaron Liang bt Petr Nohel 3-1 (4,8,(13),4)
33-48: Aaron Liang bt Toufik Mekhalfi (FRA) 3-0 (10,12,7)
33-40: Gabe Yam (NZL) [9/12] bt Aaron Liang 3-0 (9,3,4)
37-40: Rafael Galvez (PER) bt Aaron Liang 3-1 (7,(6),8,7)
39-40: Aaron Liang bt Ethan Tang (HKG) 3-0 (12,5,11)
Final placing: 39th
R128: Darosham Khan (CAN) bt Zacheus Yeo 3-0 (3,2,2)
65-96: Joshua Penfold (AUS) bt Zacheus Yeo 3-0 (9,3,1)
81-96: Chu Ching-Hsuan (TPE) bt Zacheus Yeo 3-1 (10,(8),10,8)
88-96: Pan Shao-Yu (TPE) bt Zacheus Yeo 3-2 ((8),(9),3,4,10)
93-96: Zacheus Yeo by Jung Tae Kyung 3-1 ((6),8,1,10)
93-94: Mohammad Karm (KUW) bt Zacheus Yeo 3-1 (5,7,(9),7)
Final placing: 94th
R128: Abel Sheng Jin (AUS) bt Josiah Chong 3-1 ((9),6,10,6)
65-96: Miguel Mathis (SUI) bt Josiah Chong 3-0 (9,4,7)
81-96: Josiah Chong bt Mohammad Karm (KUW) 3-2 ((9),9,9,(5),5)
81-88: Reese McLachlan (RSA) bt Josiah Chong 3-0 (6,3,10)
85-88: Josiah Chong bt Huang Liang-Yu (TPE) 3-2 ((7),9,(10),3,5)
85-86: Riley-Jack Vette-Blomquist (NZL) bt Josiah Chong 3-0 (10,4,8)
Final placing: 86th
R128: Bader Almoghrebi (KUW) bt Jerome Aw 3-0 (9,11,9)
65-96: Kim Seung Hyeon (KOR) bt Jerome Aw 3-2 ((12),(3),10,12,5)
81-96: Matt Bicknell (CAN) bt Jerome Aw 3-0 (10,14,5)
89-92: Jerome Aw bt Chen Wun-Lin (TPE) 3-1 (10,7,(9),12)
89-90: Dylan Molinaro (AUS) bt Jerome Aw 3-1 (0,7,(2),4)
Final Placing: 90th
R128: Leo Fatialofa (NZL) bt Leonard Lee 3-0 (10,5,4)
65-96: Nicolas Serna (COL) bt Leonard Lee 3-1 (6,11,(11),1)
81-96: Leonard Lee bt Pan Shao-Yu (TPE) 3-0 (5,4,2)
81-88: Leonard Lee bt Chu Ching-Hsuan (TPE) 3-0 (6,2,2)
81-84: Leonard Lee bt Nils Schwab (GER) 3-0 (8,9,3)
81-82: Matt Bicknell (CAN) bt Leonard Lee 3-0 (7,4,8)
Final Placing: 82nd
R128: Joy Lim bt Chen Pin Yu (TPE) 3-0 (6,3,2)
R64: Michaela Cepová (CZE) bt Joy Lim 3-0 (2,3,5)
Classic Plate 1: Lea Barbeau (FRA) bt Joy Lim 3-1 (3,4,(11),7)
R128: Sonya Bajaj bt Alina Poessl (SUI) 3-1 ((6),6,9,8)
R64: Sana Ibrahim (EGY) [9/12] bt Sonya Bajaj 3-0 (7,3,4)
Classic Plate 1: Tereza Siroka (CZE) bt Sonya Bajaj 3-1 ((8),2,6,7)
R128: Shin Yu Jin (KOR) bt Paige Hill 3-1 ((8),7,4,5)
Plate 2: Paige Hill bt Kelly Byrne (IRL) 3-0 (7,4,7)
Plate 3: Alesya Aleshina (RUS) bt Paige Hill 3-0 (5,5,10)
Girls’ Team Event
Pool A: Singapore v Egypt 0-3
Hania El Hammamy bt Paige Hill 3-0 (5,4,4)
Farida Mohamed bt Gracia Chua 3-0 (3,1,5)
Sana Ibrahim bt Sonya Bajaj 3-0 (1,4,4)
Pool A: Singapore v Switzerland 0-3
Ambre Allinckx bt Paige Hill 3-0 (4,5,5)
Cassandra Fitze bt Gracia Chua 3-0 (5,3,4)
Simona Frevel bt Joy Lim (5,3,3)
Pool A: Singapore v France 0-3
Ninon Lemarchand bt Paige Hill 3-2 ((7),(6),6,13,5)
Lea Barbeau bt Gracia Chua Rui En 3-0 (4,3,4)
Mahe Asensi bt Sonya Bajaj 3-0 (7,3,8)
13-18 Playoff: Singapore v Sweden 0-3
Sara Månberg bt Paige Hill 3-0 (5,5,2)
Moa Bönnemark bt Sonya Bajaj 3-2 (9,5,(8),(8),8)
Malin Frank bt Joy Lim 2-0 (4,9)
17-18 Playoff: Singapore v Chinese Taipei 2-0
Paige Teresa Hill bt Wu Yi-Chen 3-0 (5,3,3)
Sonya Bajaj bt Chen Pin Yu 3-0 (3,0,4)