KUALA LUMPUR – It’s the top two seeds to contest the CIMB Foundation WSF World Junior Team Squash Championships final as Malaysia survived a nervy test against Hong Kong to set up a date with Egypt.
The host nation, seeded second, got through after beating Hong Kong 2-0 in the semi-finals at the National Squash Centre, Bukit Jalil on Thursday.
It was however, far from a walk in the park as Hong Kong took the fight to Malaysia, especially in the first string game between Aifa Azman and Chan Sin Yuk.
Playing in front of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, the king of Malaysia, second string Chan Yiwen had delivered the lead for the home team with a commanding performance in beating Kirstie Wong 11-2, 11-3, 11-0.
Then despite a strong start, it was almost deja vu for Aifa against Sin Yuk as she let slip a healthy lead in squeezing through 11-2, 6-11, 14-12, 13-15, 11-9.
The pressure and nerves was apparent from the second game as she gave out eight errors to allow Sin Yuk a lifeline.
Then from a 9-2 lead in the fourth, Aifa somehow managed to squander four matchball opportunities, an eerily close reminder of how she lost in the individual semi-finals to Jana Shiha, to allow her opponent to force a deciding rubber.
Aifa nearly blew it again in the fifth as she allowed the Hong Kong player to catch up from a 9-4 lead before taking the win, much to the relief of the crowd.
“This totally felt like the match against Jana. I was 9-2 up in the fourth and then 9-4 up in the fifth and all the thoughts of injuries clouded my focus since I took a few falls,” admitted Aifa.
“But I managed to overcome my fear in the end and I think I did well to finish it up.
“It was definitely a tough game as Sin Yuk is a player who doesn’t give up easily. It’s not so much about the pressure but more of my focus when I was just two points away from winning.
“But I’m just relieved to lead the team through and I believe I won’t be so scared or nervous in the final since I will be the underdog. The plan is to give more than 100 percent for the team tomorrow,” added Aifa.
The win means Malaysia qualify for the final for the second straight edition since finishing second in 2017 and national assistant head coach Andrew Cross, who looked decidedly edgy at one point, believed the nervy win served as a good experience for his girls.
“It’s all credit to Sin Yuk. She never gave up and kept coming back. She’s had a good week but it’s also a good experience for the players – to never give up,” said Cross.
“It got a little edgy when Sin Yuk came back in the fourth and then in the fifth when Aifa tensed up a little and lost her focus. But it’s a lesson to her and we’ll take it on and regroup for the final.
“Additionally, it’s really good that we’re back in the final again. It shows good continuation for us in development to be constantly there every two years and not disappear after a good year.”
Meanwhile top seeds and defending champions Egypt showed their quality with a convincing 3-0 win over England.
Jana Shiha got the eight-time champions off to a brilliant start by beating Alice Green 11-7, 11-4, 11-4 before recently crowned world junior champion Hania El Hammamy powered past Elise Lazarus 11-2, 11-5, 11-5. Farida Mohamed completed the win by beating Evie Coxon 11-7, 11-5 in the dead rubber.
“I think physically and mentally we’re all a bit tired and feeling a sore. I love to go home now but the team is important for the country and we’ll do everything we can to finish strongly,” said Jana.
Added Hania, “I think I performed well today and I’m happy with my performance. I think the final against Malaysia will be toughest match, especially from a mental perspective.
“I think this is because I’m the only one in this team who played in the last team event two years ago. So hopefully the rest of the team can be prepared mentally. We’re all pushing each other because we really hope to win tomorrow.”
Egypt will be gunning for the seventh straight title while Malaysia, in the final for only the fourth time, will looking to finally land the coveted title.
Meanwhile in the 5th-8th playoff, India downed Australia 2-0 and will meet USA, who defeated Switzerland 3-0, for fifth placing.
In the 9th-12th playoffs, Canada are looking good to finish in ninth after recording two wins so far and they just need to finish strongly against France.
In the 13th-18th playoff, Sweden downed Ireland and will face Japan for the 13th spot.