Samuel and Wai Yhann successfully defend national titles, but Aaron steals the show
Samuel Kang and Au Yeong Wai Yhann both successfully defended the national titles they won last year at the Kallang Squash Centre from 21 to 24 March 2019. The event, featuring the Men’s Open, Women’s Open and Men’s Division 2, was sponsored by Sportsmatch Marketing Pte. Ltd., the authorised distributor of Dunlop products in Singapore.
Samuel, who started the year with a bang with two PSA Satellite titles in New Zealand, had to fight off a spirited display from Benedict Chan in the final of the Men’s Open. The 28-year old Samuel had started well in the opening game, breaking away to 7-4 after the pair had locked horns at 4-4. After trading off a pair of points each, Samuel led 9-6.
Right after the next point, we saw resurgence in Benedict, who now seemed to hit the ball with more purpose and urgency. He was well rewarded as he won the next couple of points to go from 6-9 down to 10-9 up. A no let decision followed to bring the score to 10-a piece and a tired Benedict tried eagerly for winners but finding no joy, and trailed 1-0 eventually.
The second game was not much of a contest. The physicality of the opening game had taken its toll on Benedict, who wasn’t trying very hard and gave it away, losing tamely 3-11.
The start of the third was a different story altogether, as Benedict came in recharged after the break. Rallies were longer and close, and both Samuel and Benedict were not hasty to end the rallies. But this was only up to 6-6 before Benedict ran out of steam and hit four tins in a row to give Samuel match ball at 10-6. As many would expect at this point, Benedict went for the kill off the serve and was way off. While it did not find the tin, it bounced up high and a tap into the front left corner won Samuel his third national title, after winning in 2011 and 2018.
“I think I started slow this tournament because I was just coming off some training but without any matches. The lack of match practice meant I was a little rusty on court. But as the matches went on, I started to play better and yesterday’s match (semis) against Aaron (Liang) definitely helped me get used to the pace again,” said Samuel when asked what he thought of his performance overall.
“It’s always going to be different being one up or one down. But I think even if I lost the first game, I was playing the right shots and was just making some unforced errors. I’m glad that I stuck with it and it paid off in the end,” Samuel answered when asked if dropping the first game would’ve made a huge difference to the match.
Benedict Chan, even though he had to play second fiddle, was not all too disappointed with his effort. The 22-year old NUS student said:
“I was really tired after the first game. I practically threw away the second game because I knew I had to do that to give it a push in the third game. I got a little carried away in the first after getting to game ball. I tried to finish off the rallies a little too soon, but I also knew the longer the rallies prolonged, it would’ve been to my disadvantage.
“I’ll say maybe I’m 60% happy and 40% feeling I could have done more (in this tournament). Considering I was sick the last two weeks plus I wasn’t really playing much, I am quite happy with my first game. But I definitely could work on my fitness. I would’ve liked to play tighter, especially my retrieving shots which I think was a bit loose today.”
Not to take away Samuel’s glory, but the biggest surprise of the event was teenager Aaron Liang. Despite only recently enlisting into the national service, the 18-year old managed to find time to train for the event and was handsomely paid with a third placing.
In the last eight, he took out a less-than-match-fit joint-third seed Chua Man Tong in straight games before bowing out to Samuel Kang. In the third placing playoff, he took out the other join-third seed Timothy Leong, also in straight games.
“I’m really happy with my overall performance in this year’s National Champs, especially (after) enlisting into national service not too long ago. I’m really satisfied with the quality of my game over the past few days. Patience is a key factor for a strong game plan, is something I recently learned to appreciate, and more so over the past few months. I feel that made the difference this time round”, Aaron said what he thought of his performance overall.
When asked what he thought about his win over Timothy Leong, he added:
“Timothy is a great player and someone I truly respect. He’s known for his fast pace and the quality of his finishing shots, so this scalp over such a respectable senior really felt surreal.
“The win also showed me good signs that I’ve surfaced over a plateau in my performance over the past few months, which was due to other commitments like the A Levels and national service.”
In the Women’s Open, Au Yeong Wai Yhann won her second consecutive title after a commanding performance in the round-robin event. The Singapore Sports School IB student dropped just 18 points in all her four matches en route to the title.
With Sneha Sivakumar withdrawing from the competition, her strongest opponent was Yukino Tan, who unfortunately had to retire midway through their match on the final day after hurting her heel, a long-nagging injury which she has been having for a while now.
It was definitely disappointing for Yukino, who was only playing in her maiden National Championships.
“I definitely feel excited (to be playing in the final the first time around). It’s unfortunate I had to pull out halfway due to my injury, so that was very disappointing. I really wanted to see how I fare against Wai Yhann. This is my second or third time playing her, and after a year or so of hard training, I wanted to see where I stood with her.”
While it may not have been as challenging as she hoped for, Wai Yhann was nonetheless happy with how she did at the event:
“I’m really happy because I’ve been training very hard for this and although Yukino pulled out today because she wasn’t feeling very well, but generally in terms of my squash, I’ve been playing very well.”
The women’s event did not receive a very encouraging response as it should have, and we asked our national champion what she thought was the blocking block to that, and she had this to say:
“The Nationals is like the chance for everyone to come and fight for the title and there are actually many women around Singapore playing squash. But it’s unfortunate that many of them do not participate in this event. The truth of it is to have the competition, so hopefully there’ll be more people taking part.
“I think a lot of people have the mindset that the same people are going to win or they are afraid to participate. But I think the thing about the Nationals, is for you to come and try your best to see where you stand. There’s really nothing to fear and just take it as another tournament to enjoy,”
Wai Yhann’s thoughts are also well shared by Samuel Kang, who feels that the format of the National Championships could’ve also been a factor why some are reluctant to participate:
“I think it is definitely a mental block for our local players not participating. In the past, this tournament is a purely knock out event, so once you lose, that’s the end of the tournament. I think what the SSRA is doing now is great. People play till the last day to get a ranking and I think if people realised that, where everyone get equally as many matches, many more will participate, especially for the ladies side.”
Men’s Open Final
Samuel Kang bt Benedict Chan 12-10, 11-3, 11-6 (33m)
Men’s Open Third Placing
Aaron Liang bt Timothy Leong 14-12, 11-8, 11-4
Women’s Open Final Group Match
Au Yeong Wai Yhann bt Yukino Tan 11-3, 9-3, rtd.
Men’s Div. 2 Final
Josiah Ng bt Brian Loo 11-2, 11-5, 11-2