Top seeds Kang and Yhann claim hat-tricks in Singapore
Alex Wan reports
The MARIGOLD Singapore National Squash Championships 2020 came to a close this evening as top seeds Samuel Kang and Au Yeong Wai Yhann both lived up to their top billing to clinch their third consecutive national titles. The pair certainly did not have it easy and had to see off some resistance from their respective opponents Marcus Phua and Gracia Chua.
Playing to a near empty gallery due to COVID-19 Safety Measures, the pair won in straight games but the score lines certainly did not do justice to the intensity of the matches. Au Yeong Wai Yhann, 21, saw off a spirited display from youngster Gracia Chua. At just 14 years of age, Chua certainly impressed with her display as she capitalised on a nervous start from the defending champion in the opener.
But as Au Yeong composed herself and got rid of the nerves with a few rallies in, she slowly took control of the remainder of the game. Her confidence in finishing the first strongly certainly showed in the second, as she went on a rampage, winning 11-0 in just three minutes.
Despite being totally overpowered in the second game, that did not seem shake Chua at all as she came into the third looking even stronger than the first. Playing with no fear, she raced to a 9-5 lead and was within two points away from taking the game.
But the experience of Au Yeong showed when it mattered most as she regrouped, drew level and closed out the match. As she clashed rackets (as a substitute to shaking hands) with Chua, there was a look of relief written all over her face.
“I think I went into the first game feeling a little nervous. Then in the second I was really comfortable with my shots, really just stepping up and managed to win that quite easily. In the third, she went in really strongly and played some very good shots. I think I got a little complacent and too eager to finish, so I was trying a little unnecessarily and made quite a few unforced errors(in the third game)”, Wai Yhann said when asked to run through her match.
As for Chua, she mentioned that she had an enjoyable tournament and the opportunity to play Au Yeong.
She also said, “I am already very happy to put up such a close fight. I think I lost concentration a little after that, and I should have calmed down a little and concentrated a little more”, when asked about the close third game.
Having upset the seedings two days in a row, Phua shared he had nothing to lose in the post-match interview yesterday and would be going out firing. He definitely walked his talk today as he came out firing in the opener with some very high intensity squash and took a 5-2 lead. But that took a toll on him physically as he fizzled out soon after.
He did come back with a second wind in the third game and made some amazing play in the front. He was within a point of snatching a game off the defending champion, but just couldn’t finish it off. It was the consistency and supreme fitness of Kang who had the last say after multiple exchange of serves in the third game tie-break.
“This year has been tough for us and we never expected this tournament to happen, so it was very nice to compete again. My first time playing in a Nationals final was against Marcus (back in 2011), so I never expected to be playing him again today (at the same stage). It was tough then, but today, the last set was brutal. We always have tough matches and he is such an experienced player.
“He is playing very well and you can see that in his results. He was playing some amazing shots (in the third game) and I just told myself to hang in there and stick to my game. I knew Marcus is very strong at the T so I had to try and push him behind me”, Kang said.
For Phua, he came in with a game plan and tried to execute it but it was just not enough to halt the superior fitness of Kang. He added:
“I knew the ball was going to be bouncy so I wanted to keep up the pressure and go for low, hard kills. As we know, Samuel is a very fit guy and I knew if I were to drag the rallies, it would not do me any favours. But that game plan also requires a lot of effort on my part.
“The reason I got a little tired in the first game at 6-6, that’s all credit to Samuel being able to maintain that level of consistency to keep the rallies going and putting me under pressure. Towards the business end of the first game, that quality of his really showed the difference.”
The men’s event really showed that the seasoned campaigners are still a force to be reckoned with. While it was no surprise that Kang made to the final today, the performances of Phua all week was the talk of town. Let’s also not forget the performance of national coach Vivian Rhamanan who was the only one who took a game off Kang all week in the last eight, and then finishing overall fifth in the event.
In the junior under-19 events, top seeds Jerome Aw and Gracia Chua both won in straight games in their finals against surprise finalists Zacheus Yeo and Au Yeong Wai Iynn.