SINGAPORE - On paper, it was like nothing had changed at the Marigold National Squash Championships.
Two-time defending champions Samuel Kang and Au Yeong Wai Yhann retained their men's and women's open titles respectively on Saturday (Dec 5). But in reality, it was a very different tournament for the players to come back to after a year of not competing.
Players could only enter the venue, Kallang Squash Centre, 15 minutes before the match and had to wait at a separate holding area before being ushered into their respective courts. Spectators were also not allowed.
But Kang, 29, was just happy to be competing again after a year. His last tournament was the 2019 Men's World Team Squash Championships in Washington DC last December.
He beat Marcus Phua 3-0 (11-6, 11-4, 17-15) for his fourth national title. His first in 2011 came also after he beat Phua.
Kang told The Straits Times: "I'm definitely very happy to get this win today. This year has been tough for all of us. I never expected this tournament to happen in the first place.
"It was a tough match and we were both feeling it. At the end, he was playing very well."
Phua saved five match points but failed to convert his two game points.
But the 31-year-old was still pleased with his performances over the past week after making the final without dropping a single game.
"I'm enjoying every moment of it so hopefully I can keep up this level of squash for as long as I can and see where that takes me," said the 2010 and 2012 champion.
"I think I played very well today. I just wanted to come today and put up a good show and hang in there for as long as I can. I was very pleased with the third game... but the quality of his game really showed and he hung in there.
"Even though I hit a couple of winners, they were not enough to sneak in a game. Credit to him, he played really well today."
In the women's final, pre-match jitters did not get to multiple SEA Games medallist Au Yeong as she comfortably beat Gracia Chua 3-0 (11-7, 11-0, 13-11).
The 21-year-old said: "I definitely had a little bit of match nerves because I've been away from it for so long but it feels good and hopefully there will be more tournaments coming up."
Her training sessions were cut by 30 minutes from two hours and only two are allowed in a court with no switching allowed, but she has learnt to work around the changes.
She said: "Usually we get to play with more players during training but now we can only stick to one court. And we can only do two-people drills now.
"It's also a little disruptive because if the coach wants to correct us, they have to stay outside and show us the corrections.
"But we've worked around it. I also think the protocols (at the tournament) are enough. It's more of us doing our part to wash our hands regularly, wear our masks after finishing our game and stuff like that."