From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.22 :: Jun. 03, 2010
Mohd Azlan Iskandar of Malaysia, winner of the men's singles title.
A power centre of the sport in the continent, Malaysia met with mixed results in the recently concluded Asian Squash Championships in Chennai.
While its dominance in the individual event was extended beyond doubt, the team tourney threw up refreshing new results that indicated that other nexuses of the sport — most notably India, Pakistan and Hong Kong China — stood on the threshold of breaking into the big league.
Malaysia entered the biennial bonanza banking on the strengths of its top-seeds and defending champions — World No. 1 Nicol David and 18th-ranked Mohd. Azlan Iskandar. While Nicol was untouchable through both phases, Azlan dominated the singles only to lose steam as the team event rolled in, something that cost his country dear. The individual event sprung no surprises as Nicol and Azlan coasted to wins, clinching their seventh and second successive titles respectively. Twenty-six-year-old Nicol was barely challenged as she defeated second-seeded Rebecca Chiu in the title round. This was Nicol's 23rd win in 24 matches against the Hong Kong player.
The top-ranked Malaysian had earlier put it across Dipika Pallikal in straight games in their semifinal. Dipika, entering the tournament on the confidence of her maiden WISPA win in Kolkata, was the lone Indian girl to reach the last-four after Joshna Chinappa was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Chiu.
“She has improved vastly since the last time I played her. My plan was not to allow her any space on court to go for her shots,” said Nicol of Dipika who is No. 1 on WISPA's Emerging Players list.
Malaysian Nicol David in action against Hong Kong's Rebecca Chiu in the singles final. Nicol won the title.
In the men's individual event, Azlan, who had taken care of the India's main men's hope — 27th-ranked Saurav Ghosal — in the semis, benefited from Pakistan's Aamir Atlas Khan conceding the final with a leg injury after he trailed by two games. The Safin-esque Malaysian made it two in a row by keeping a relentless pace in the final against 23rd-ranked Aamir, whose leg gave way in the third game.
“It's not the best way to win, but I was playing good today. I wish Aamir a speedy recovery for the team event,” said Azlan.
The top-seed should have been wary of what to wish for as Pakistan — served admirably by Aamir and Yasir Ali Butt — knocked the stuffing out of Malaysia in the men's team final. Malaysia, seeded to win both the men's and women's team events, failed on both counts.
The template for the debacle was laid in the semifinal when India — represented by Saurav, Harinderpal Singh Sandhu and Siddharth Suchde — scared the living daylights out of the top seed. Saurav made light of a horrible first game to upscale his method of operation, shocking the favoured Azlan in four games after Harinderpal had played valiantly, but in vain, against Mohd. Nafiizwan in the opener. The victory was sweet revenge for Saurav after the straight-game defeat to Azlan in the singles.
With things tied on a game apiece, Suchde (rank 80) and Ong Beng Hee (rank 19) played out a marathon on centre court, before the Malaysian took his country through in five games across 75 minutes.
In the final, the tall and wiry Yasir Ali Butt put Pakistan ahead with a hard-fought win over Mohd. Nafiizwan. And then, what many expected to be a rerun of the men's singles final went completely contrary to script. Aamir showed no sign of his bad leg as he beat Azlan in three games, giving Pakistan the men's continental team title.
The women's team event was where the bulk of Indian hopes lay and were requited to some extent. Joshna, Dipika, Surbhi Misra and Anaka Alankamony stepped it up in the league phase, taking the host into the semifinals with a clean slate. In their last four clash, India rushed to a 2-0 win over Korea with Anaka and Joshna coasting to wins against Kim Ga Hye and Sun Mi Song.
In the other women's team semifinal, Hong Kong China shocked Malaysia. Joey Chan beat Low Wee Wern, leaving it for Nicol David to restore parity with another cakewalk over Rebecca Chiu. Annie Au gave Hong Kong a slot in the final when she shunted out Delia Arnold in the decisive third rubber.
The final between India and Hong Kong China was disappointingly one-sided. Anaka put up a semblance of a fight before going down to Joey Chan, but the host's fate was sealed in the second match as Joshna whimpered to a 24-minute loss against Chiu, crowning Hong Kong China the champion.
Singles: Men: Mohd Azlan (Mas) bt Aamir Atlas Khan (Pak) 11-8, 11-4, 3-0 (conceded); Women: Nicol David (Mas) bt Rebecca Chiu (HKG) 11-6, 11-7, 11-7.
Semifinals: Men: Aamir Atlas Khan (Pak) bt Yasir Ali Butt (Pak) 11-6, 11-7, 11-0; Mohd. Azlan (Mas) bt Saurav Ghosal (Ind) 11-5, 11-6, 11-5; Women: Rebecca Chiu (HKG) bt Joey Chan (HKG) 11-7, 11-9, 5-11, 15-17, 11-4; Nicol David (Mas) bt Dipika Pallikal (Ind) 11-5, 11-5, 11-2 .
Team: Finals: Men: Pakistan bt Malaysia 2-0 (Yasir Ali Butt bt Mohd. Nafiizwan 11-5, 7-11, 11-4, 11-5; Aamir Atlas Khan bt Mohd. Azlan 11-8, 11-9, 13-11.)
Women: Hong Kong China bt India 2-0 (Joey Chan bt Anaka Alankamony 7-11, 11-1, 11-9, 11-7; Rebecca Chiu bt Joshna Chinappa 11-7, 11-2, 11-5).
Semifinals: Men: Malaysia bt India 2-1 (Mohd. Nafiizwan bt Harinderpal Singh Sandhu 12-10, 11-9, 13-11; Mohd. Azlan lost Saurav Ghosal 11-2, 8-11, 2-11, 4-11; Ong Beng Hee bt Siddharth Suchde 11-6, 8-11, 14-12, 4-11, 11-2.)
Pakistan bt Kuwait 2-0 (Yasir Ali Butt bt Salem F. Moahammad 11-9, 11-4, 12-10; Aamir Atlas Khan bt Abdulla Almezayen 11-8, 6-11, 15-13, 11-1.)
Women: India bt Korea 2-0 (Anaka Alankamony bt Kim Ga Hye 11-8, 11-3, 11-8; Joshna Chinappa bt Sun Mi Song 11-2, 11-4, 11-8.)
Hong Kong China bt Malaysia 2-1 (Joey Chan bt Low Wee Wern 8-11, 11-6, 11-6, 11-8; Rebecca Chiu lost to Nicol David 3-11, 8-11, 11-5; Annie Au bt Delia Arnold 11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-7.)
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