Team Singapore finished with mixed feelings at the Asian Junior Team Championships in Pattaya, Thailand as the girls justified their seeding, while the boys slumped three places below. The event, held between 16 and 20 January 2019. The event, held at the popular resort Ambassador City Jomtien, played host to twelve boys and nine girls teams over a period of five days (16-20 January 2019). Singapore sent an inexperienced team to the event, where apart from Sneha Sivakumar, all the other three girls and four boys were debutants.
In the girls’ event, the young team of Sneha, Keertana Veerayah, Paige Hill and Gracia Chua did well to finished sixth to justify their seeding. The girls did not have a dream start after they had to play the top two teams in the group on their first day of competition. Losses to Hong Kong and India, but that didn’t come as a surprise. Hong Kong, the tournament second seeds were far too strong and outclassed Singapore in all three ties.
But against the Indian third seeds, the girls put up a very respectable fight. Top junior Sneha had given Singapore a point and India had equalised in the second tie after Keertana Veerayah went down in straight games. The third rubber was keenly contested, and all credit to Paige Hill for putting up a gallant fight before going down to Amira Singh 11-8, 2-11, 8-11, 7-11.
In the final group tie, Singapore was edged 2-1 by the lower seeded Sri Lanka, with Keertana and Paige being edged in four and five games respectively.
With no wins to show in the group stages, the girls came back strongly in the 5-9 playoffs, winning three of four ties contested. The girls overcame higher seeded Japan, Chinese Taipei and Macau. The only loss came at the hands of Sri Lanka once again and the girls ended the campaign in sixth.
National coach Timothy Arnold was full of praise for his charges :
“Our girls’ team was a young one. Apart from Sneha being the only experienced, everyone was a debutant at an event of this stature. It was a great exposure for all, especially Gracia, who is only 13 years old. She got to experience top level Asian squash first hand. I am happy that we managed to finish to our seeding.”
The boys’ team however, was struck with misfortune even before they had lifted a racket. Top junior Aaron Liang recently enlisted into the army as part of his national service and that made a huge impact to the sixth seeded team. That meant Matthew Wong was pushed up to the top, followed by Leonard Lee, Evann Tan and Kieren Tan.
Singapore had top seeds Malaysia, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Japan and China for company in Group B. Singapore needed two wins in the group stage to get into the top eight, but this was further hampered by yet another misfortune. As if the loss of Aaron was not great enough, Leonard Lee then suffered an injury in the opening tie against Kuwait and never saw any further action.
After the opening loss to Kuwait in the morning, the boys bounced back to trounce China 3-0 in the afternoon tie on the opening day. The following day’s matches were against mighty Malaysian and Hong Kong, both powerhouses of the sport in the region. There was nothing much the boys could do and the combined match times of 84 minutes (over five matches) were clear indicators of the difference in standards.
Singapore had to win the final group tie against seventh seeds Japan for a top eight. Unfortunately, this was not the case as they narrowly lost. The loss meant the boys had to go into the 9-12 playoff and they did that well by winning both ties against Thailand and Chinese Taipei to finish the campaign on ninth.
“I am generally satisfied with the boys’ performances. Having Aaron enlisting into army, I knew it would be a very difficult task to perform to our seeding. Having Leonard, our number two being injured after the first match was not a great help in strengthening our team. The boys did their best despite the circumstances. So, I am not surprised we finished ninth,” said Timothy Arnold when asked what he thought about the boys finishing below their seeding.
Timothy also added, “Our team is still a very young one. We are trying to nurture the juniors and work towards having a decent team in the near future. The next one will also be tough, as our next top junior in line will only be 17, when it is an under 19 event. Having said that, we want to do our best and aim for a finish top six in both the boys and girls event.”
Timothy’s aspiration is not far-fetched. In the last event held in Hong Kong, the girls team of Sneha, Au Yeong Wai Yhann, Bernyce Tay and Steffi Chan finished an impressive joint-third. The boys comprising of Aaron Liang, Kojiro Tan, Clement Hung and Regan Tan finished eighth.