Malaysia ends Pakistan's 19-year reign

HONG KONG, JULY 12. Malaysia broke Pakistan's 19-year stranglehold on the Asian senior men's squash title with a well deserved 2-1 victory in the final here on Wednesday. Hong Kong brushed aside India 3-0 to finish third.

The drama was, however, reserved for the women's final where Hong Kong pulled off a stunning 2-1 win over defending champion Malaysia. It looked like curtains for the local team as Christina Mak lost the first and second games and was 0-6 down in the third. As if that wasn't enough, Mak had to save five matchballs in the fifth to give Hong Kong a famous win.

Earlier, Mak's colleague Rebecca Chiu had avenged her final defeat at the hands of Nicol David, fighting back from two games down.

India's tie against Hong Kong was pushed back by an hour and a half as the SRFI Secretary-General wanted to watch the game. He was at an Executive Committee meeting of the Asian Squash Federation early this morning and did not show up until halfway through the men's final.

Hong Kong coach Tony Choi's eyes had lit up when he was told of the request for a delay. The team has a poor record in early morning matches and as a senior player pointed out, ``we once lost to Kuwait when we were asked to play at 10 a.m. The culture here is to eat late and to sleep late so we aren't at our best first thing in the morning.''

The Indian rope trick did not work today. The 32-year- old Abdul Faheem Khan gave a lesson in discipline to Ritwik Bhattacharya. He used the lob and boast to move Bhattacharya around and the resultant openings that came his way were severely dealt with. Faheem could have won in straight games but lost the third after leading 7-6. He, however, recovered to win 9-1, 9-4, 7-9, 9-2 in 42 minutes.

Faheem has played in the Asian championships since 1990 and is a wily customer. But he has slowed down and the joints are showing signs of wear and tear. Unfortunately, Bhattacharya did not have a gameplan and was bundled out.

The baby-faced Vincent Cheung gave Hong Kong the bronze with a 10-8, 9-1, 9-3 win over Dhiraj Singh in 40 minutes. Half this time was taken for the opening game in which Dhiraj led 8-5 but was caught out by a blitz from Cheung. He played too many half- court balls and Cheung took full advantage. Had the Indian paced his game and settled down in the first, he may well have run Cheung closer.

The dead rubber was won by Jackie Lee, who won in 20 minutes with a 9-2, 9-2 scoreline against Manish Chotrani.

High drama

The Indian women were in for a rude shock as the Koreans pushed them all the way. Mekhala Subedar needed just 15 minutes to dispose of Kang Young-Jin 9-3, 9-2, 9-0, but there was plenty of drama in the other two matches.

Vaidehi Reddy led by two games and was 3-0 ahead in the third against Park Eun-Ok. Inexperience took its toll and the Korean fought back to win 6-9, 2-9, 9-5, 9-0, 9-3 after 46 minutes.

When Deepali Anvekar dropped the first game to Lee Hea-Kyung, there were worried looks in the Indian camp. But the Mumbaiite showed her character and went on to prevail 4-9, 9-6, 9-3, 9-0, the match lasting 40 minutes.

``It was tense out there,'' said coach Bhuvaneshwari Kumari. ``I thought we had the tie won in the second match. The girls have played well and today Mekhala and Deepali did us proud. Vaidehi had a good match but she needs to play many more internationals to help her cause.'' The win over Korea gave India fifth place overall.

Ong Beng Hee and Kenneth Low starred in Malaysia's win over Pakistan. Beng Hee saved two gameballs in the opener against Mansoor Zaman before inching home 10-9. He won the second easily and when he led 8-0 in the third, it looked all over. Surprisingly, the Asian champion made a string of unforced errors and Zaman was in with a shout at 6-8. Beng Hee had a stroke in his favour on his 10th matchball and was a very relieved customer as he came off. It was 10-9, 9-1, 9-6 to Beng Hee after 52 minutes.

``I got a bit over-confident and thought I could finish the match off but a few errors changed the situation. Mansoor is a fighter and I felt I was lucky to have won the first game. That made a huge difference,'' said Beng Hee.

Shamsul Islam Khan put things back on even keel with a half hour 9-4, 9-2, 9-4 victory over Yap Kok Four, the result never in any doubt. In came Kenneth Low and blazed his way through the first and second games against Ajaz Ahmat. The Malaysian led 4-2 in the third when suddenly things went wrong. He lost the next seven points but made amends in the fourth where he went 3-1 and 6-3 ahead. Low closed the match with a superb backhand crosscourt volley which left Ahmat stranded.

History was made at the Asian senior squash championships, indicating the falling standards in Pakistan. Without Amjad Khan, the side looks beatable and Malaysia did just that.

Sharon flatters to deceive

The women's final saw Rebecca Chiu avenge her defeat four days ago at the hands of Nicol David. The pendulum swung in this match as David won the first and second games comfortably. It was 7-7 and then 8-8 in the third when Chiu found two winning volleys to take this game.

David led 6-3 in the fourth but didn't manage another point. In the decider, David was tentative. But nobody was going to stop Chiu this afternoon and she won 2-9, 6-9, 10-8, 9-6, 9-1, the clock stopping at 56 minutes. Tricia Chuah took the tie into the decider with a comfortable 9-2, 9-3, 9-1 triumph over veteran Dawn Olsen, the match getting over in 22 minutes.

The manner is which Sharon Wee began led many to believe that the match would be a short and sweet affair. Instead, the Malaysian choked when two games and 6-0 ahead, could not convert five matchballs in the fourth and Mak came through 1- 9, 3-9, 9-7, 10- 8, 9-6. It was a nail-biting finish with the local lass keeping her nose in front, and although Wee came within a point at 6-7, it wasn't good enough.

The prizes were given away by Mokhzani Mahathir, President of the Asian Squash Federation. He had a word of advise for the losers. ``There is a famous line. It ain't over till it's over. Come back in two years' time and aim for the gold.''

The results:

Men: Final: Malaysia beat Pakistan 2-1.

Third place: Hong Kong beat India 3-0; Fifth place: Japan beat Singapore 2-1; Seventh place: Thailand beat Philippines 3-0; Ninth place: Sri Lanka beat Kuwait 2-1; 11th place: Korea beat Qatar 2-1; 13th place: Chinese Taipei beat Macau 2-1.

Women: Final: Hong Kong beat Malaysia 2- 1.

Third place: Japan beat Singapore 2-1; Fifth place: India beat Korea 2-1; Seventh place: Chinese Taipei beat Sri Lanka 2-1; Ninth place: Thailand.

Joshna falls in semifinals

Joshna Chinappa, the No. 1 seed, in the girls under-15, lost in the semifinals of the Australian Open junior tournament to third seed Kasey Brown of Australia. Kasey beat Joshna 4-9, 9-2, 9-4, 9-1, and went on to win the title beating Sally Looi of Malaysia in straight games 9-6, 9-2, 10-9.

Joshna beat Kylie Bell of Australia in the play-off for the third position.