By Alex Wan
Top seeds Samuel Kang and Au Yeong Wai Yhann both lived up to their billing to take the titles. While everything may have seem to have gone to script, it was hardly the case in many ways.
With the COVID-19 safe distancing measures being enforced, there were no spectators in the stands. Players were only allowed in the venue 15 minutes before their matches and the most challenging one for the players – not being able to wipe their hands on the court walls.
If there was one thing obvious from the event results, it’s that the next generation of talents still have some catching up to do. While they may be superior in fitness and equally skilled, their match maturity is still lacking when facing more experienced opponents.
The star of the event, hands down, has to be joint-fifth seed Marcus Phua. The 31-year old produced a masterclass performance all week and was especially impressive in his quarter and semi-final matches, disposing youngsters Brandon Tan and Aaron Liang, the event’s joint-third and second seeds in straight games.
Having been on the receiving end of critics for his inclusion in the 2019 SEA Games squad, Marcus certainly silenced them with his achievements in the event.
In the final, which was a repeat of the 2011 Nationals final played at Velocity @ Novena, Marcus was clearly outran by the superior fitness of Samuel. Marcus, however, started very well off the blocks and raced to a 3-point lead. But that push in the start took its toll and Samuel capitalised on that and went on to lead by two games.
He staged a spirited comeback in the third, producing some drop shots so delicately beautiful, it was a waste that no one was able to witness in the stands. He even had a game ball, but simply couldn’t close it. After 45 minutes, Samuel eventually clinched it 17-15. He breathed a sigh of relief and tapped rackets with his 2015 SEA Games team mate.
Another notable result from the seniors is the run of national coach Vivian Rhamanan, who is the only player in the tournament who have taken a game off Samuel. He went on to win the 5-8 placing matches, beating national junior Jerome Aw and joint-third seed Brandon Tan, both times coming back from a game down.
In the women’s event, top two seeds Au Yeong Wai Yhann and Gracia Chua strolled into the final without much resistance. While many would’ve expected a very easy win for the experienced Wai Yhann, she was troubled by the 14-year old on several occasions – particularly in the third game, where she had to come back from within two points of losing the game to seal her win.
Having won in 2018 and 2019, both Samuel and Wai Yhann completed their hat-trick of titles. Since the inception of the event in 1973, only 5 men and 5 women have achieved this feat. Samuel joins the ranks of Singapore legends Zainal Abidin, Peter Hill, Mohd Rizal and Vivian Rhamanan, while Wai Yhann joins Tracy Oh, Lim Seok Hui, Mah Li Lian and Joannah Yue in the elite list.
In the junior events, top seeds Jerome Aw and Gracia Chua took the titles, both beating surprise finalists. Jerome ended the giant-killing run of Zacheus Yeo, the joint-fifth seed. Zacheus had produced his A-game all week and took out close friends Theodore Chua and Josiah Chong, the second and joint-third seeds. Gracia, meanwhile, beat Au Yeong Wai Iynn, the joint-third seed in the final and finished the event without dropping a game.
Overall, it was a successful event given the circumstances and credit to the organisers and personnel on site to have pulled this through despite the logistical challenges in place.
The men’s event saw a 32-man draw filled to the brim. This has not happened for some years now and is made even better by the fact that there were several first-timers in the event. This is big step forward towards removing the stigma that the National Championships is only for national players.
The women’s draw also saw an increase in participation compared to the year before, but there is still much improvements to be made before catching up with the men.
Results (All finals)
 Samuel Kang beat [5/8] Marcus Phua 11-6, 11-4, 17-15 (45 mins)
 Au Yeong Wai Yhann beat  Gracia Chua 11-7, 11-0, 13-11 (22 mins)
 Jerome Aw beat [5/8] Zacheus Yeo 11-6, 11-2, 11-4
 Gracia Chua beat [3/4] Au Yeong Wai Iynn 11-9, 11-6, 11-6 (28 mins)