Upbeat men's squash team target Asiad last-8 run

Having met the qualifying criteria to be nominated for this year's Asian Games, the national men's squash team will continue their preparations buoyed by a key lesson learnt from the Asian Team Championships: that they can hold their own against professionals.

The team - Samuel Kang, Vivian Rhamanan, Benedict Chan and Timothy Leong - finished sixth at the March 21-25 tournament in Cheongju, South Korea after losing 0-2 to the hosts at the test event for the Aug 18-Sept 2 Asian Games in Indonesia.

The Singapore National Olympic Council's criteria stipulates athletes should be ranked sixth among Asian countries for team sports.

Singapore's last representative in squash at the Asian Games was Joannah Yue, who lost in the first round of the women's singles at the 2002 edition in Busan, South Korea.

The Republic have two Asian Games bronze medals in squash, each won by Mah Li Lian and Della Lee in Bangkok in 1998.

Singapore Squash Rackets Association technical director Allan Soyza told The Straits Times: "I think what was good was that the players absorbed the techniques and tactics we imparted in training, and were able to adapt quickly to the court in Korea.

"We'll try to reach the quarter-finals (at the Asian Games) and see how the draw goes from there.

"It's going to be quite tough as there are a couple more teams that didn't take part in the Asian Team Championships and these athletes are training full-time."

Reigning Asian Games champions India and bronze medallists Kuwait were absent from the Asian Team Championships. But Singapore recorded wins against the likes of Iraq, Pakistan and Qatar.

Kang, 27, said: "It's a sign that we shouldn't be afraid of countries that are historically good in squash, and hopefully the younger guys (Leong and Chan are both 21) see that it is possible to achieve good results."

Rhamanan, the only professional player among the four, acknowledged that he and his team-mates have "a lot to catch up on" as he feels the standards of the players in Asia have risen, with more of them playing professionally and gaining more exposure.

"My focus for this year has been on coaching, so my fitness has dropped," said the 32-year-old.

"When I was playing against the top players, my biggest issue was (keeping up with) the fitness and speed but, in terms of skill level, I was still able to compete."

Kang, a teacher, took time off in December to recover from an old back injury which he sustained before last August's SEA Games.

His biggest challenge upon resuming training this year was finding the time and facilities to practise, as work commitments meant he could not always join the team to train at their facility in Kallang.

"When we look at the countries that did better than us, they've done a lot of work in the gym and it shows on court, not to mention they also have exposure," he said.

"So we want to get faster, stronger and hopefully gain more exposure to that high level of squash before the Asian Games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2018, with the headline 'Upbeat men's squash team target Asiad last-8 run'. Print Edition | Subscribe