By Alex Wan
The DYMON ASIA SGSquash Masters Open 1st Leg saw both the Over-40 and Over-50 events fully participated. Given that this is the first Masters event of the year and there was a limitation of a 32-man draw per category as allowed by SportSG, the high participation did not come as a total surprise. In fact, the event was oversubscribed and the organisers had to decline some late entries.
It was a happy event judging from the (limited) camaraderie around the waiting area. There were many seasoned and familiar faces around and encouragingly, many new faces too. The competition was serious, but friendly, with many smiling faces at the end of the matches.
The event was also boosted by the participation of Mark Wong, the man behind DYMON ASIA who is the title sponsor of the event. An avid squash player himself, Mark finished sixth overall in the Over-40 category. For the record, this is the first time we have a sponsor participating in the event they’re sponsoring.
“Although the disruption that COVID-19 has brought about to our economy and the local sports scene still persists, the pandemic has not dampened our fervour to show support for the squash community. It is heartening to see the community so eager to bring the sport back with maximum participation across all the categories.
“We hope that our support for these tournaments demonstrates our commitment to the sport and the strength of the squash community in the long run. Squash has been underrated for the last couple of years – maintaining a vibrant squash scene is critical to increasing participation of the sport at the grassroots level and piquing the younger generation’s interests for squash”, Mark said when asked if the pandemic had made his decision to sponsor a difficult one.
The finals day definitely belonged to the lefties, with seasoned Masters campaigners Victor Koh and Charlie Thomas winning their respective categories. Victor beat fellow ex-national Chew Kok Wye in the Over-50 category while Charlie overcame the top seed and national head coach Yap Kok Four in the Over-40.
It’s Victor Koh once again
Victor, who won the last Masters tournament in December last year, once again reigned supreme in this event. He was dominant throughout the tournament, including in the final against Kok Wye. He breezed through the entire tournament without dropping a single game and for the loss of just 67 points through his five matches.
The final was competitive in the first game, with both players engaged in some safe rallies and were never far apart up to 7-all. After that, Victor injected more pace and that did the trick as he packed four straight points for the lead. In the next two games, Victor was dominant and dropped just a total of six points to complete his tournament without the loss of a game.
“It’s part of my game (to lengthen the rallies) and I knew he was tired. I just wanted to push on and force him to make mistakes”, Victor said after when asked if it was his strategy to keep the rallies longer, as it seemed in the second and third games.
The event had several shockers in the earlier rounds, with the second seed Shaun See and joint-third seed Pang Hian Tee both shown the exit in the first and second rounds. The pair, who both met in the semi-finals of the last Masters event after upsetting the seedings, this time, turned victims. Shaun was shown the door in his opening round by Aidan McDonnell, and Hian Tee fell to Jason Ong in the second round after a tough five games.
Aidan McDonnell’s run continued into the semi-finals. Having seen off Shaun, he went on to win two tough matches against Harvey Mah and Chris Pong, before he was stopped by Kok Wye in the semi-finals. The Irishman, who had only recently moved to Singapore, will be a new force to be reckoned with on the Masters scene.
Charlie Thomas outlasts top seed
In the Over-40 category, Briton Charlie Thomas needed five games to topple the top seed Yap Kok Four. The pair had both came into the final without much trouble, neither dropping a single game along the way.
In the final, Charlie started the match convincingly with some very fast rallies, never allowing his opponent to settle, and took the first game with relative ease. Kok Four, a former touring professional, then gathered his wealth of experience of the game to win the next two games in a similar 11-9 score line.
But those two games did the damage for Kok Four as he couldn’t produce a consistent showing in the next two games. While Kok Four had the shots, Charlie was simply too fast and fit, and outlasted his opponent, taking the last two games for the sole upset of the day.
“It feels very good and I really enjoyed the game. Kok Four is such a class player and sadly, he looked like he had a little injury at the end. I was very lucky to scrape through. I saw him play last night and I saw he had an amazing touch with the drop shots. So, I came in with a game plan to not give him anything short and to run like hell”, the champion said.
Kok Four, on the other hand, said: “I’m pretty happy to get into the final today, having pulled through all the earlier matches. While they were 3-0, they were all pretty tough”.
Fitness is the key in Masters events
One thing that was very clear in the tournament is that fitness is the main ingredient in the Masters events. One doesn’t need to look deep in the finals matches itself, that both Victor Koh and Charlie Thomas have superior fitness compared to their opponents.
This sentiment is also shared by both the losing finalists:
“I went rather flat after the first game. Perhaps it was all the hard work in the previous match (against Aidan McDonnell) less than 24 hours ago. I am not as disciplined as our champion (Victor Koh) in training and with us playing five matches in five consecutive days, it’s taking its toll (on my body)”, said Kok Wye, who recently turned 50 and is playing in his first Over-50 event.
Kok Four was even more direct on the matter and said, “Fitness is the key ingredient at our age. Charlie is really fit and he hung on there all the way. For myself, it’s unfortunate that my old injury kicked in again towards the end.”
Injuries, as we all know, can be reduced or avoided with a much stronger body to support our weight and impact. This fact was also shared by Victor Koh as his secret to success was keeping himself fit.
“It’s no secret and I have been sharing with others what I do to keep myself in shape. I always encourage them to do strengthening. At our age, if we do not strengthen, we lose our muscle mass very fast. I try to go to the gym as frequent as possible and I would advise my fellow masters to do the same to keep ourselves fit to prevent injuries, which is more important than anything else at our age.”
With the next Masters event due in May, there is ample time for everyone to hit the gym!
RESULTS (Finals only)
 Victor Koh beat [3/4] Chew Kok Wye 11-7, 11-3, 11-3
 Charlie Alexander Thomas beat  Yap Kok Four 11-5, 9-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5
For full results and standings, please click here.