Squash: Singapore squash buzzing about teens' recent success

Sneha Sivakumar, 14, is one of Singapore's brightest squash prospects, winning a doubles silver and a team gold at the six-nation South-east Asia Squash Cup.
Sneha Sivakumar, 14, is one of Singapore's brightest squash prospects, winning a doubles silver and a team gold at the six-nation South-east Asia Squash Cup.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Last week, Sneha Sivakumar chipped in with a silver medal in the women's jumbo doubles and a team gold for Singapore at the six-nation South-east Asia Squash Cup in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

The team gold was especially sweet, as it marked the first time in 21 years that the Republic had defeated rivals Malaysia in a team event.

To add more joy to the celebrations is the fact that Sneha is only 14 years old, with a bright future predicted for her.

Vivian Rhamanan, a former national coach who has recently turned professional, said: "She was a trainee of mine since she was 11 and she has grown up to be a team-mate now in the senior squad.

"So obviously, I am very excited about her potential."

Ranked No. 2 in the Asian junior girls' Under-15 category, Sneha won multiple tournaments in 2015, such as the Indian Junior Open and the U-15 title at the Old Chang Kee Singapore Open last month.

Since then, she has been promoted to the senior national squad and has the distinction of being the youngest player on the team.

Sneha first picked up squash at the age of eight at the condominium she lived in. She soon joined a squash club called the Ultimate Squasher and after just three years of playing, she was invited to join the national team's training programme when she was still studying in primary school.

The teenager said: "The concept of being in the national team didn't really strike me at the age of 11, like just how big of a responsibility and how prestigious it is.

"But now, I feel very grateful and honoured… and this gives me a lot of exposure and I am able to learn a lot."

However, Sneha is not the only youngster the local squash community is excited about.

Au Yeong Wai Yhann, 17, is also making a name for herself after finishing third in the girls' U-17 category at the Scottish Junior Open that was played from Jan 8-10.

After years in the doldrums, squash is experiencing a comeback and this was highlighted by the SEA Games men's jumbo doubles gold won by Rhamanan and Marcus Phua last June - the Republic's first gold at the Games in 20 years.

Woffles Wu, president of the Singapore Squash Rackets Association, said of the resurgence: "In the past six to seven years, there has been a mini-explosion in the number of kids playing… due to awareness and popularity of the game.

"I would say there has been about a 30 per cent jump over the last couple of years and it is a very healthy growth.

"Out of all these new players, a number of them will be potential stars."

The return of sponsors such as local food company Old Chang Kee, which is sponsoring the Singapore Open, as well as new high-level competitions like this year's Lion City Cup, which will feature prize money totalling US$100,000 (S$143,000), will also contribute to the growth of the sport.

Said Wu: "Competitions like the Old Chang Kee Singapore Open are important because it allows juniors to get ranking points and they are exposed to players from China, Japan and so on.

"And when they face opponents from other countries through such competitions, you allow them to learn from the different playing styles and strategies which they can pick up and add to their game and improve.

"The future is pretty bright for Singapore squash right now."

Vanessa Kang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore squash buzzing about teens' recent success'. Print Edition | Subscribe