SINGAPORE - Competing in her final junior squash tournament before entering the senior circuit, Au Yeong Wai Yhann saved her best for last by becoming the first Singaporean girl to reach the quarter-finals of the British Junior Open in Birmingham.
The 18-year-old finished seventh in the Jan 3-7 tournament after American Elisabeth Ross conceded a walkover in their placing match on Sunday (Jan 7). The Republic's previous best result at the tournament was Pang Ka Hoe's seventh place in the boys' Under-15 category in 2011.
The British Junior Open is considered the second biggest junior squash tournament in the world, after the World Junior Championships.
This year's event is one of the biggest in the championship's 39-year history - over 600 competitors representing more than 30 countries competed across 10 age categories.
Au Yeong, who turns 19 next Thursday, told The Straits Times yesterday: "I'm really happy with how I finish my junior career... it feels so unreal because I played in this tournament two years ago and I lost in my first two rounds, so I fell to the bottom.
"My younger sister (Wai Iynn was 17th in the U-11 category) came with me this year so hopefully she'll be inspired by this and the other juniors will also be encouraged that they can do it, too."
Her quarter-final run ended with a 11-7, 11-4, 11-5 defeat by top seed Sivasangari Subramaniam of Malaysia on Friday, but Au Yeong was upbeat, saying: "It was a good experience and it can only get better from here."
The teenager admitted she was "quite disappointed" by last month's loss at the Scottish Junior Open Under-19 final to compatriot Sneha Sivakumar, but overcame it by telling herself she had nothing to fear in her last junior tournament.
Sneha, 16, was ninth in the Under-17 competition of the British Junior Open.
Both were part of the women's team that won silver at last year's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Singapore Squash Rackets Association president Woffles Wu hailed the pair's recent results as an inspiration to other junior players as it shows the sport is on the right track, but noted that improvements could be made by all players in areas such as fitness and shot selection.
He said: "What we don't want is for the girls to get stuck in a rut where they seem to be doing the best they can, but they're not there because their mindset and approach are different.
"They're on a good upward trajectory, they just need to get fitter and stronger.
"The top seeds are going to be playing with power or short drop shots, so you need to be more mobile to cover the court well."