by Alex Wan
With the support and understanding of his employer and leaders at the Ministry of Education, combined with his self-discipline and hard work, Samuel was able to train and compete at a considerably high level throughout 2019. While he may not have seen as many hours at the national training sessions in Kallang, he still maintained the same number of hours in court on his own elsewhere. However, all this changed in 2020 when a new training slot was introduced in Kallang.
He also led the nation to the Men’s World Team Championships in Washington D.C, a first for Singapore since 1997. Whilst the team was no match for most of the teams there, it was great exposure for the boys as they had the opportunity to compete amongst the best the sport has to offer.
For Samuel personally, he had the opportunity of a lifetime when he got to challenge two very top players on the PSA World Tour – New Zealand’s World Championships runner-up and World Number 5 Paul Coll and Scottish number one Greg Lobban, who is ranked in the top 30. As one would expect, he was no match for either of them, but the experience gained will be ones he will cherish for a very long time.
“2019 was a good year for me squash-wise. I had a new role at work so my schedule changed and I had to adjust my training programme. I could no longer make it for national training sessions so I did almost all of my training on my own, which was tough as I did not have any match practice or drills. But I’m glad that I was able to train consistently (on my own) and still compete at a good level.”
Just to prove his point, Samuel also climbed to a career high ranking of 155 in the December world rankings. That’s quite a feat considering he started the year at 303 and has only five PSA events through 2019!
Two quarter-finals and a semi-final appearance at PSA Challenger events in Australia and New Zealand earned him enough points to get there. At the $11k New Zealand International Classic, he downed Aussie Rhys Dowling before losing out to home boy Evan Williams in the last eight. Then, he also fell in the same stage at the Bendigo International to young Malaysian Ong Sai Hung in August. He then went one step further at the South Australian Open, making into the last four before being edged by World Junior runner-up Moustafa El Sirty in four games.
However, not everything is rosy as Samuel was dealt with a blow at the SEA Games, an event he has never failed to medal in the individual event. In both the 2015 and 2017 Games, he returned with a bronze. This time however, he lost out to Philippines’ Robert Garcia in the last eight. It might be some time before he gets another crack at the event as the next two editions look set to have squash omitted.
In terms of training, Samuel must be thanking his lucky stars, as this year, a new training schedule has been setup to accommodate players such as himself to train more regularly. A 7-9 pm slot has been introduced to encourage those who have to juggle training with work commitments.
“The new training arrangement has allowed me to attend national training sessions more frequently. By extending the training hours till 9pm (from 8pm), players who are balancing work/school commitments like Marcus (Phua) and (Pang) Ka Hoe and me are now able to train together. This is great, because I can only reach training at around 7.30pm, so the extension allows me to fit in a good session.
“In the past, I could hit with some players for a short while, but many of them would have done 1-2 sessions earlier in the day and also more than an hour of training before I arrive, so they tend to be very tired. With the new arrangement, I’m able to get 1-2 hours of quality training with other players who also arrive after 7pm.”
The introduction of the new training slot has also encouraged formerly retired SEA Games Gold medallists Marcus Phua and Pang Ka Hoe back into the fold. Marcus, a winner in 2015 and Ka Hoe, who won Gold in 2017, have not only returned to training, but have both also booked their places in the team for the Asian Team Championships.
“It’s great to have them back in the team. They are both SEA Games gold medallists and have represented Singapore on many occasions, so they add value to the training sessions. It definitely makes the team more competitive and pushes everyone to work harder. They are great guys and role models for the younger ones, so that’s another benefit to having them back on the team”, Samuel added on the return of his former team-mates.
Samuel, together with Marcus, Ka Hoe and event debutant Aaron Liang were due to travel to Kuala Lumpur for the Asian Team Championships at the end of the month, but like many other sporting events, it has been postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 situation.
It could work out as a blessing in disguise for the team, as it will allow more time for training – particularly for Marcus and Ka Hoe, who have both only started training again this year.
For Samuel personally, he looks forward to break into the top 150 this year. Given the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation and how that will affect the tournaments, that sounds like a sensible target. Come April, and barring any cancellation of events, Samuel will be traveling to Kuala Lumpur for the SRAM PSA1 and right after, to Chennai, India for the HCL SRFI Indian Tour, both $6k events on the PSA Challenger Tour.
At the time of publishing, PSA has since announced suspension of all PSA World Tour and PSA Challenger Tour events up to the end of April 2020. That includes the events Samuel was due to play in April.