by Alex Wan
It was always going to be tough to follow up with an equal or better year than she had in 2018. Having gate crashed her way into the quarter-finals of the World Junior Championships, Sneha Sivakumar attracted a lot of positive attention. However, the following year was one where her squash had to take a back seat as she had to prepare for her A Level examination.
Sneha, who described her education as an “equally important thing in my life”, scaled down her training from twelve to just four sessions a week. She’s also spent a lot more time in the gym instead of the squash courts to improve on her physical condition, which she shared is a process that took 5-6 months.
“I would say that 2019 was one of the most stressful years of my life. Having to juggle both the A Levels and the SEA Games in the same year was really tough. Both were big items for me – the SEA Games being a major sports event and the A Levels, it’s the final exams of my schooling life.”
Her lack of training on the squash court was evident at the SEA Games, as it took her quite some time to adjust to competitive match environments. Citing the lack of match exposure over 2019, she didn’t have as much confidence with her own strokes. While she may have done her own work to maintain them, they were nothing like having to execute them in a match.
“Although during solo sessions, I feel that my strokes and technique were fine, once I was made to move and pick up shots, the whole technique has to be changed and improvised (and I haven’t had enough matches to practice that). There were players that I would’ve beaten very comfortably in the past, I was made to work and take every single point very seriously.”
Due to the lack of training and match exposure, Sneha did not set herself any targets and went in hoping for the best. When asked if she was happy with how she did, she said:
“I wouldn’t take my (personal) results as a reflection of the work I’ve put in. I wouldn’t even say if I am satisfied or unsatisfied with how I did, given that I didn’t have the chance to really train for it.”
At the SEA Games, Sneha was controversially disqualified in the opening round of the individual event after accidentally hitting her opponent. However, she bounced back to help the team to a surprising silver medal behind Malaysia in a round-robin contest. It was a pleasant surprise because the team had lost out to host Philippines, who then unexpectedly lost to Indonesia.
Since being back in training early this year, she has improved leaps and bounds, charting wins over nearly all the top national junior boys.
One of the things she has been working with lately is her backhand grip. Elvinn Keo, the former world number 91 from Malaysia, has been spending time with her working on that. She feels that the sessions with Elvinn has been very encouraging and useful.
“It’s very nice to have him (Elvinn) come in on and off. Having him focus on specific things like my grip, it sort of gives some sense of direction. It somewhat gives me like a pathway to grow. It becomes much more fun to train too, instead of doing the same thing day in and day out.”
Having played with the old grip for all her life, she seems to have been adapting well with the new grip looking at her match play results.
But her real test will come when she competes at the HCI SRFI Indian Tour in Chennai, which she feels she stands a chance to win. With Filipino Jemyca Aribado as second seed and the fact that she is in good form, she aims to go for the win. However, she first has to get through a tricky first round encounter against a 15-year old Egyptian who has never played outside her country before and if she passes that, she will have Malaysia’s Chan Yiwen in the second round. The last time the pair played was at the British Junior Open last year where the Malaysian won in straight games.
She hopes to break back into the top 150 by playing more tournaments on the PSA Challenger Tour. It’s not an unrealistic target as she was ranked 139 back in March 2019.
The 18-year old former Raffles Institution student has also since accepted an offer to go to Yale University this August. She revealed that her impressive performance at the World Juniors in 2018 has led to many offers made by college scouts and coaches on the spot. The coaches at Yale were so impressed by her performance, that the offer she received was unconditional.
Not that it mattered if it was conditional, as she passed her A Level with flying colours with 3 As and a B.
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 Sneha was due to play in April.