By Alex Wan
After a hiatus of nearly a year, competitive squash is finally back on our shores!
What better way to make a return than the MARIGOLD National Championships, the biggest and most prestigious local event on the Singapore squash calendar.
Samuel Kang and Au Yeong Wai Yhann have both been expectedly given the top billing for the event. The pair, who won the title in 2018 and 2019, will now be vying for a hat-trick of titles, albeit in very contrasting levels of competition.
Strong field of contenders in the men’s event
The men’s event looks set to be a nail-biting affair after it attracted a full 32-draw that includes three national champions – Samuel Kang, Vivian Rhamanan and Marcus Phua, who together, have won ten of the last eleven National Championships.
Leading the pack for the trio is top-seeded Samuel, winner of the last two editions and also the highest ranked Singaporean on the PSA World Tour at 201. Vivian and Marcus, SEA Games gold medallists in 2015, are both seeded joint-fifth.
“I am very excited to play some competitive matches, with my last tournament being in December 2019”, Samuel said of the event.
When asked who he thinks will be his main competition, he added, “I think everyone has a shot, especially the other senior guys like Vivian (Rhamanan), Aaron (Liang), Marcus (Phua), Tim (Leong) and Jerome (Aw).”
Samuel, however, on paper, will face his strongest challenge from youngster Aaron Liang, the second seed. The 20-year old put up an impressive performance at the event last year to finish in third.
It’s been a year since I played an actual tournament, so this will be good opportunity to get the competitive instinct back again. I just hope to give my best and see how far it will take me”, Aaron said when asked what he thought his chances were.
The participation of Vivian Rhamanan, who is now part of the national coaching setup, and Marcus Phua, would be a good test for the current younger batch of players. The pair are seeded joint-fifth and while both may not be at their prime anymore, the pair are still a force to be reckoned with given their skills and experience. However, both have pointed out that they have not set any target for themselves:
“I have not set any targets and am competing because I want to assess my national trainees’ progress while competing against them. I will, however, go into every match with the same competitive mindset as before – to survive in all the matches I play. I’d also like to wish all my national trainees the best at the event”, said Vivian.
“I am always happy to be able to compete at the Nationals. I have no expectations for myself. I am just hoping to do the best I can and there is definitely no pressure to win. I hope to be able to put up a fight with the younger players! I am enjoying my squash and slowly adapting back to the singles game after being out for a while”, said Marcus, who had re-joined the national training since the end of the circuit breaker.
Seeded joint-third in the event are Timothy Leong and Brandon Tan. The gifted Timothy Leong, is another one to watch out for at the event. While he has only returned to training regularly about three months ago, he is very much capable to pull a surprise or two on his day. Brandon, meanwhile, will be out to justify his seeding over his younger compatriots.
Youngsters Jerome Aw and Edward Thng, both lefties, complete the top eight seeds. Edward has long been an upcoming player from his junior days, while Jerome has stepped up into the scene in the last two years or so. They may not have the senior experience, but their youthfulness could cause an upset if given the right opponent in the draw.
Wai Yhann set for an easy win
While the men’s event look good for a few upsets on the cards, the women’s event is quite the opposite. With Sneha Sivakumar absent for the second successive year, Wai Yhann looks set to sail through the competition once again for her hat-trick. Her biggest challenge should come from second seed Gracia Chua, her younger sister Wai Iynn and NUS student Rachel Lee, none of whom are anywhere near her calibre.
Wai Yhann has, however been on the receiving end of some injuries and this event will be a good one to ease herself back into competition.
“I’m definitely really thrilled to compete especially since it’s my first tournament of the year. I’ve been managing a few injuries here and there, so it definitely feels good to be able to compete again after months of hard training and rehabilitation”, Wai Yhann said.
No spectators allowed
Given that the safety measures are still in play, the MARIGOLD National Squash Championships will be a non-spectator event. The tournament will also be run under very tight measures where players will only be allowed in the vicinity during their matches and that only alternate courts will be utilised.
For fans wishing to follow the progress of the event, results and highlights will be updated regularly on our social media accounts listed below. The semi-finals and finals of the event will be broadcasted live on the Singapore Squash Facebook page.