New Strait Times: Malaysian prospects for the Asian Games

Malaysians twice failed to sweep two gold medals in the Asian Games since squash was introduced in 1998, but they are unlikely to be denied glory in Doha next month. Nicol David easily won Malaysia’s first squash gold in Bangkok in 1998, but she was shocked by Hong Kong’s Rebecca Chiu in Busan four years later in the final. As for the men, Kenneth Low could only manage a bronze but Ong Beng Hee, who fell in the quarter-finals in Bangkok, justified his seeding to secure the gold in 2002.

This time, Nicol is the undisputed queen of world squash. There is no player in Asia who can stop her dominance, and a second Games gold is hers for the taking. Nicol is in fiery form, having won five professional tournaments in a row, and her next target is to defend the World Open title in Belfast, beginning Wednesday, before shifting her attention to Doha.

It will be a fantastic year for Nicol if she succeeds in Belfast and Doha as it will mark an unprecedented feat by an Asian on the world stage. Nicol, besides bagging the British Open, Qatar Airways Challenge, Malaysia Open, Penang Open and Hong Kong Open, also clinched the Asian Championship title for a record fifth time in Taiwan in March.

Her only setback was in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in March where she failed to win a medal but being only 23, Nicol will get another opportunity in 2010. The schedule of the Games will also give Nicol time to recover from the World Open, which ends on Nov 26, as squash will be staged at the Khalifa Squash and Tennis Complex on Dec 10-14.

While Nicol is almost assured of gold, Beng Hee will be involved in a difficult battle with three others – Azlan Iskandar and Pakistani’s Mansoor Zaman and Aamir Atlas Khan.

The talented Aamir, 16, could pose a threat to Beng Hee and Azlan in the last eight. If Aamir falls in the quarter-finals, Beng Hee may have an easier semi-final against Ritwik Bhattacharya of India while Azlan is likely to play Mansoor, with the Malaysians favoured to reach the final. It would be a stirring scenario if Beng Hee plays Azlan for gold in Doha in an all-Malaysian final. There is little to separate the two Malaysians as Azlan had defeated Beng Hee for the Kuala Lumpur Open title in February while Beng Hee got his revenge when winning his fourth Asian title in Taiwan two weeks later.

As for Sharon Wee, retaining her bronze will not be a problem but she wants more than that. To win gold, she will have to overcome defending champion Rebecca Chiu of Hong Kong in the semi-finals. If this happens, this will confirm Malaysia a perfect haul of two gold and two silver but a bronze from Sharon is still a good result as Rebecca has beaten Sharon five times in seven meetings.

After failing to meet the one-gold target in the Commonwealth Games, Malaysia are in a good position to equal the National Sports Council’s target of two gold, one silver and one bronze medals, or even do better.

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About Cyrus Poncha
I was born and lived in Bombay before moving to Chennai in 2001 to coach the Indian national squash team....what a journey its been!!

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