The World Juniors aside, the other event that stands out in the international junior circuit is the British Junior Open (BJO). It is often regarded as the second most prestigious junior event on the international calendar, an event with a long history dating back to 1926 when the Drysdale Cup was first contested. Today, the very same Drysdale Cup is presented to the Boys’ Under-19 winner each year.
Many of the past British Junior Open winners have gone on to become world champions and number ones on the senior stage, including current World Number Ones, Mohamed El Shorbagy and Nour El Sherbini. As widely expected, the current junior event was largely dominated by the Egyptian camp, just as it is on the senior stage. Statistically, the numbers are intimidating. Since 1999 (and not even including 2019), Egypt has won a whopping 103 titles, with the next two dominant nations, Pakistan and Malaysia, having only won a combined 23 titles.
Singapore has not been a regular participant in the BJO event but this year, we were represented by four boys and one girl. Young hopeful, Edward Thng, participated in the Boys’ Under-15, while Kieren Tan, Leonard Lee and Evann Tan took part in the Under-19. In the girls’ category, Sneha Sivakumar was the lone Singapore participant in the Under-19 event.
Given the quality of the playing field, the event was to be a good gauge for SPEX scholar Sneha to measure up against the world’s best … Again. Having made headlines in the squash world last year after gate-crashing into the last eight of the World Juniors, she was however unable to repeat her feat. Seeded 9/16 for the event, Sneha justified that seeding before crashing out tamely to Malaysian Chan Yi Wen in the third round.
Edward Thng was Team Singapore’s best overall Boys’ performer after he won his opening match to make the round of 64 before bowing out to England’s Yusuf Sheikh in four games. Edward went on to win his next two classification matches which set him up for a respectable joint-37th finish eventually.
In the Boys’ Under-19, Singapore’s best performer was Leonard Lee. Leonard upset the form books to beat Welsh 33/64 seed, Kieran Hillman, in the opening round in a see-saw match that saw him clinch victory in the fifth in a tie-breaker. That opening round win ensured Leonard a top 64 finish despite his losing in the next round to Canadian George Crowne. Leonard also lost his first two classification matches but another win on the final day saw him end his campaign in joint-61st, and ahead of his Under-19 compatriots.
The other two Singapore boys fizzled out tamely to their 33/64 seeded opponents with Kieren having the dubious distinction of being bagel-ed in his opening game. However, the youngster came back to win three of his four classification matches to finish joint-75th.
Evann Tan, currently based in Millfield School in Bristol-England, also fell in the opening round of 128, losing in straight sets to Australia’s Saad Khatri. The 18-year old son of former Singapore international, Ernest Tan, then lost two and won two in the subsequent classification matches, with the winning ones both in five-setters and eventually ending his campaign in joint-85th place
Singapore Squash’s Technical Director Allan Soyza, when asked how satisfied he was with his charges, said, “I have mixed feelings. Progress was made by some players. It’s a tough event, so definitely not disappointed.
Firstly, they should now realize that standards around the world have improved and are higher than ever before. They would have gotten an idea of how much more work need to be done before they can even dare dream of winning the event. Lastly, I hope that they managed to exchange thoughts and ideas with other players from the event and go on to improve themselves.”
Singapore may well be far from getting near a title, but Rome was not built in a day. Having these players compete on the world stage is a baby step towards that elusive dream. With enough support from all vested parties and the desire and dedication from our players, that dream could one day be a reality. Time will tell.
RESULTS (MAIN ROUNDS ONLY)
Sneha Sivakumar (Girls U-19)
R1 : beat Helena Coetzee (RSA) 11-6, 11-8, 11-7
R2 : beat Lujan Palacios (PAR) 11-6, 13-11, 12-10
R3 : lost to Chan Yi Wen (MAS) 5-11, 5-11, 3-11
Edward Thng (Boys U-15)
R1 : beat Rasmus Hauan (NOR) 11-1, 11-3, 11-3
R2 : lost to Carlos Maria Teruel (ESP) 5-11, 1-11, 3-11
Kieren Tan (Boys U-19)
R1 : lost to Dillon Huang (USA) 0-11, 5-11, 4-11
Evann Tan (Boys U-19)
R1 : lost to Saad Khatri (AUS) 4-11, 7-11, 5-11
Leonard Lee (Boys U-19)
R1 : beat Kieran Hillman (WAL) 9-11, 11-5, 7-11, 11-8, 12-10
R2 : lost to George Crowne (CAN) 6-11, 5-11, 8-11