By Alex Wan
Having a 64-men and a 64-ladies draw in a squash event on our shores is not something very common in recent years. The 64-men draw was completely filled that Singapore Squash had to reject some registrants to stay within the participation limit stipulated by the authorities, while the ladies had 43 entries. That was the Tech Mahindra SGSquash Men’s and Women’s Novice Tournament held at the Kallang Squash Centre over the last week. This being the first novice tournament organised by Singapore Squash in over ten years, it has been utmost encouraging from the positive response of 107 entries in total. Having achieved our key aim of attracting new and budding players, and allowing participants to play against a variety of opponents, Singapore Squash is very hopeful about organising more events of a similar nature to reach out to a wider audience of novice players.
Being restricted only to players who are new to the sport – have played for less than two years, not graded by SSRA and did not play in the National Squash League in 2019, it opened up the competition to many who would’ve been intimidated to participate in the regular squash events.
“The turnout was very, very good and we are very happy with that. For the novices, it is very important to enjoy the game and make more friends during the competition, so that they will remain interested and grow with the game”, said Jason Ong, Senior Vice-President of Communications, Media and Entertainment at Tech Mahindra, who himself is an avid squash player.
The event also saw a good international turnout with nationalities such as Australians, Japanese, Chinese and Indians to name a few. As an added bonus, a few staff of the Tech Mahindra organisation also took part. At an interview later, we were told they now know they have enough players to easily form a squash group as part of the company’s work-life balance initiative.
Singapore National Head Coach Yap Kok Four, was also all praise about the participation of the event. He said:
“It’s very encouraging to see the number of participants in the event, particularly in the women’s event. What’s also very impressive is the number of novice juniors taking part and we are hoping that there would be some talents which could feed into our pipeline.
“We saw many unfamiliar names in the draw and it was obvious some had just only picked up the game. This further proves that the popularity of the sport isn’t in a decline.” Although many were interested to try the sport previously, the scarcity of public courts made it difficult for them to book courts.
While the participants may have been novices, the competition was nothing short of exciting, which the score lines of some matches will testify. Statistically, there were a combined of 12 five-setters and 27 four-setters in both the men’s and women’s events.
Chua Wan Tong, a Business degree student at the Singapore Management University, won the women’s event. The 20-year-old herself survived a five-setter in the quarter-finals against seasoned SG Squash volunteer Ong Shi En. That tough match must’ve fired her up as she eased through her semis and final matches in straight games, beating Singapore Chinese Girls’ School duo Elizabeth Chen and Charmaine Yeo respectively.
“I think many people think that squash is a very tough sport to get into but from this tournament, I feel that the squash scene in Singapore is quite hopeful. Even my opponent (Charmaine) is so young and they have a lot of talent, and they have a long way to go”, said Wan Tong when asked what she thought of the ladies squash scene.
For runner-up Charmaine, who also survived a five-setter in the last sixteen against Crystal Lai, she felt the squash scene has so many interesting people and she’s met many amazing squash players who have motivated her to play in more competitions in the future. Despite being just 14, the secondary two student did not show any nerves at all playing in the final.
In the men’s event, Liao Wenjun battled through six tough matches to a well-earned title. The bespectacled National University of Singapore student survived a five-setter in the opening round followed by five consecutive four-setters en route to his title. In the final, he took out a very tough Ifan Michaud, who has shown all week how fast and dangerous he can be.
The first game proved to be vital for Wenjun, who only just managed to squeeze through on his third game ball on the tie-break. Ifan came back strongly in the second game to draw level, but was unable to trouble Wenjun enough in the next two.
Ifan, who is of French-Malaysian parentage, said, “It’s good to compare your level against other people and I think it’s great that we have 64 players in the draw. I didn’t think I would get this far, but little by little, I thought maybe I can win and I’m really happy I got into the final.”
When asked what was unique about squash, he responded convincingly, “Having lived in Singapore, it was always easier to play squash compared to tennis because sometimes it rains and it gets cancelled. With squash, you also only need one hour and then you get tired. It’s so intense that you have to shape your shots at a very quick pace, so I think it’s very different to other sports and it makes a great workout.”
We are hopeful that the next novice event will even see more competition, with the current competitors having more time to train up and some new faces coming on board. Given the numbers, perhaps it’s an indication that the competition frequency for novices should also be increased in the future.