SINGAPORE - Just two months ago, national squash player Samuel Kang was considering hanging up his racket as he was feeling unmotivated, like he had "lost the fire".
What it took to relight that passion was an Achilles injury two weeks later that forced him out of training for a while.
While he only returned to court earlier this week, Kang proved his mettle as he beat Aaron Liang 11-6, 10-12, 11-9, 11-4 in a gruelling 67-minute final to clinch his fourth straight singles crown at the Marigold National Squash Championships on Saturday (Nov 13).
Kang, 30, said this title - his fifth overall - meant the most to him as on Monday, he was not sure he would be fit enough to compete. But he recovered in time.
He said: "Two months ago, I had lost the fire a bit. I felt if I stopped training and playing, I would still be happy.
"The pandemic has affected all of us and we go through cycles where motivation (rises and) drops. I didn't want to get on court. I felt I wasn't getting much out of training so I needed a reset.
"In a way the injury helped because it forced me off court and when I saw people playing, I felt I still wanted to do it, I still have the ability so why waste it.
I just want to play as long as I'm happy and I was happy to be on court here."
After winning the first game, he looked set to double his lead and was 5-0 up in the second game. But Liang fought back to draw level at the Kallang Squash Centre.
The effects of his gruelling 57-minute semi-final victory over Marcus Phua on Friday became apparent though as the 21-year-old started getting cramps in both legs.
Kang took advantage and won the next two games and the championship.
This was Liang's first appearance in the final and he said he was glad to learn from veterans like Kang and Phua, 32.
Liang, a first-year business administration undergraduate at the Singapore Management University, said: "Not only do they push me but they also give me good advice. They're very structured in training and very disciplined.
"I have lots to improve on, seeing how consistent Sam is and how mentally strong they are. I'll also work on my physical condition, just being more clinical on court."
He competes at next week's Marigold SGSquash Closed Satellite tournament and the Asian Team Championships in Malaysia at the end of the month.
He said: "This is my first tournament this year and it's a good start so I'm going to keep at it. Hopefully you'll see me at more finals and I'll clinch my first title."
In the women's singles final, Au Yeong Wai Yhann cruised to also her fourth consecutive title with a 11-6, 11-2, 11-4 victory over 15-year-old Gracia Chua in 20 minutes.
Au Yeong, 22, credited her training at the Elite Squash Academy and the University of the West of England Bristol where she has been working on her game composure and court movement the past few months.
The first-year psychology undergraduate said: "I'm really happy with my performance. Honestly, winning isn't the most important thing. It's more about being able to see progress in my game and work towards bigger goals like the Asian Games (in Hangzhou next year) and the world championships, this is just a stepping stone for bigger things to come.
"Seeing how much the juniors are improving, we have a really strong group of girls so that's promising for Singapore squash."