SEA Games 2017: Singapore men's team win first squash gold in 22 years

Samuel Kang of Singapore celebrates with compatriot Benedict Chan after defeating Philippines during the SEA Games men's squash team finals held on Aug 29, 2017.
Samuel Kang of Singapore celebrates with compatriot Benedict Chan after defeating Philippines during the SEA Games men's squash team finals held on Aug 29, 2017.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

KUALA LUMPUR - The last Singapore quartet to capture the SEA Games men's team squash gold comprised heavyweights - legends Zainal Abidin and Peter Hill, and the seasoned Anthony Chua and Ernest Tan.

That was back in 1995.

Yesterday, in the cauldron of the Bukit Jalil National Squash Complex, home of the region's kingpins Malaysia, Singapore sent in two Games debutants and a late bloomer to do battle.

No matter. Pang Ka Hoe, 21, Benedict Chan, 20, and Samuel Kang, 26, still delivered, beating the Philippines 2-1 at the Nicol David Arena to hand the nation its first men's team title in 22 years.

Singapore Squash Rackets Association (SSRA) technical director Allan Soyza, himself no stranger to the regional squash scene having been Malaysia's national coach from 2009-2012, said that fielding two debutants yesterday had been a team decision.

After all, the Singapore men had beaten the same opponents in the round-robin stage on Saturday, albeit with a different line-up comprising veteran Vivian Rhamanan, 31, Chan and Kang.

Said Soyza: "We sat down and discussed the strength and weaknesses of the opposition first and we felt that (we should) change the line-up to give (the opponents) a bit more of a headache.

"Vivian also had a slight strain in his hip that we felt should not be risked further... it was a team decision and it turned out well."

Said Kang of the victory: "It's massive... Malaysia have been a powerhouse and when we came in, we knew they were even stronger than they were two years ago (when they won gold).

"It was quite a shock for us to see that the Philippines beat them and we knew we had a huge opportunity to play well and get that gold."

Games debutant Pang got Singapore, silver medallists in 2015, off to a fine start when he defeated Reymark Begomia 3-0 (11-1, 11-3, 11-6) in the first match.

The Philippines then levelled the scores after Robert Andrew Garcia beat Chan 3-1 (11-8, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9).

In the decider, an assured Kang, who by his own admission is a late bloomer having picked up the sport only during his secondary school days at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), overpowered David William Pelino 3-0 (11-4, 11-4, 11-5) to clinch the gold.

Said Chan, also a Games debutant: "I didn't have any doubt in my mind that Sam would come through for us, and he did it in spectacular fashion.

"He's one of the most reliable guys I know and I would trust him with my life to play the decider."

Kang, an economics teacher, said he had visualised "every possible scenario" to calm his nerves.

"I knew I had to stay strong as everyone is going to give their best in the final and with the crowd behind me, I managed to push on and get the win," he added.

Rhamanan said: "The future is really bright for Singapore squash.

"These guys are just (emerging) from the juniors and they've stepped up to (the senior level) and delivered."

In the women's team final, which also took place on Tuesday, Singapore's squash players settled for silver after losing 1-2 to hosts Malaysia.

Pamela Chua beat Ooi Kah Yan 3-2 (12-10, 4-11, 11-4, 7-11, 11-9) to give Singapore a 1-0 advantage, but Malaysia replied through Andrea Lee, who defeated Mao Shi Hui 3-0 (11-8, 11-6, 11-6).

Sneha Sivakumar, the youngest in the Singapore squash contingent at 16, lost 0-3 (4-11, 6-11, 4-11) to Aifa Azman in the decider.

The last time Singapore's women's team won gold was at the 1993 Games, where Mah Li Lian, Josephine Choo, Della Lee and Lina Ong triumphed on home soil. That year, the Republic's squash players swept all four gold medals on offer.

The Singapore squash players wrapped up their 29th SEA Games campaign with two golds, two silvers and five bronzes.

Said Mao, who won the jumbo doubles title on Thursday with partner Sherilyn Yang: "I think we went in with no pressure - the pressure's all on Malaysia and we just wanted to try our best for the win.

"Overall we're really happy with the result and how we played, and I think moving forward, it gives us a benchmark to work towards."