June Player of the Month: Nathan Kueh
It was the month of the juniors with many outstanding youngsters stepping up at the Asian Junior Individual Championships. But of the lot, the most outstanding one wasmnone other than Sarawakian boy Nathan Kueh who truly shone by winning the boys’ Under-17 title. That would be his biggest ever career win and its the reason why Nathan is the SRAM Player of the Month for June.
Nathan Kueh is not the most outstanding squash player in terms of physique. For a 17-year-old, he is a little short and there is the understanding that having the height gives one player a better ability to cover the length of the court.
But what Nathan lacks in physique, he makes up for it with really good racquet skills and determination on court, thus making him a unique player in his own right.
And he’s really come long way in his own right.
Based entirely in his hometown of Miri, Sarawak, Nathan first came through the ranks by training with the Miri Association. He then moved on to train under Jiwen Singh, father of former national player Sanjay Singh Chal, two years ago.
That switch appeared to have its desired effect as Nathan was a consistent fixture in the national circuits, often finishing within the top four in his age-group.
This year, with the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) incoming, he’s also cut back on training a bit and mostly hits with his brother – Martin Kueh – a former Sarawak player.
But despite that, Nathan still had it in him to pull off an outstanding finish by claiming the Under-17 title at the Asian Junior Individual Championships.
It is his biggest title to date and he certainly did it in style, taking the spotlight over the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) based duo of Amir Amirul and Duncan Lee.
His win over Duncan in the semi-final was impressive as he overcame a two-game deficit to beat his compatriot in five.
And in the final, Nathan produced some of his best squash as he got the better of 2018 British Junior Open Under-15 runner-up Neel Joshi of India to take home the crown. And that was despite feeling on the morning of the final.
“I’ve been working really hard for this title and I felt really happy to win it. A lot of it is thanks to my family, coaches and teammates who supported me throughout the week,” said Nathan.
“I was actually not feeling well in the morning of the final but I’m happy that I managed to push myself in the final to get the victory over Neel.”
For a boy who’s hardly competed in the big events such as the British Juniors, it is truly a significant result and its a well deserved Player of the Month award for Nathan.
May Player of the Month: Ng Eain Yow
Ng Eain Yow has come such a long way since his days as a promising junior. Since winning the World Junior Championships in 2016, the KL boy has gone from strength to strength. Having claimed the national No. 1 title, Eain Yow marked that milestone by reaching the semi-finals of the Asian Individual Championships and is deservingly the Player of the Month for May
Even as a junior, Ng Eain Yow had already set lofty goals for himself – to be a world champion one day.
He was certainly on the right path having won the World Junior Championships back in 2016.
But the senior game was a lot more different compared to the juniors and the road to the top was certainly a long one for the three-time British Junior Open champion.
Yet, the 21-year-old has always exceeded expectations, rapidly rising through the Professional Squash Association (PSA) rankings in the short time he’s been on the world tour.
He certainly showed what’s in store for the future of Malaysian squash when he helped the nation to the team gold at the Asian Games last year.
Now having claimed the mantle as the national No. 1 in April, the youngster certainly lived up to it during the Asian Individual Championships that was held on home ground early in May.
The big win came against Hong Kong’s defending champion Max Lee in the quarter-finals where he won convincingly in four games.
But the road upwards is still a long one, evidently by how he was beaten by eventual champion Saurav Ghosal in the last four and then by suffering a first round defeat to junior rival Patrick Rooney in the first round of the British Open a couple of weeks later.
Eain Yow however acknowledges the part of the game where he is still lacking and is confident of getting his game up especially with the boost of being named May’s Player of the Month.
“I appreciate being named player of the month although I’m not sure I totally deserved it,” said Eain Yow.
“Beating Max was like a small breakthrough in the sense that I’m on the right track doing the right things and I believe that I’ve gained more self belief from that match.
“But I still have to put in the hard work everyday to stay consistent as all the players on tour now are great players and every match is tough.
“Keeping myself mentally locked in for the whole season will be the biggest challenge but I’ve got a few months to build upon the next season and hopefully I’ll have more results my way.”
With the PSA season on break, the world No. 37 now have a couple of months to work on his game. He’ll be back to show his worth at the National Championships in July before resuming PSA competitions in September.
And there is the hope that he will do well on tour, especially now with Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Nafiizwan Adnan formally retired.
March Player of the Month: Low Wee Wern
The nightmare of two years is finally over for Low Wee Wern. The Penangite has had such terrible luck with injuries and it was only in July 2018 that she really came back from the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury she first suffered in 2014. Even then it took her until April where she finally started to play like the Wee Wern of old as she reached the final of the Macau Open, thus earning SRAM’s April Player of the Month award. It would have been easy to write off Low Wee Wern’s squash career. The 28-year-old has missed a large part of two years of action on the court due to her rehabilitation from three surgeries to her knee.
Anyone with a lesser determination would have just called it day and walk away from the sport. But Wee Wern has demonstrated throughout her career that she is made of sterner stuff and determination is one of her shining qualities. In fact, the Penangite has worked so hard to return to the Professional Squash Association (PSA) Tour in July 2018 and she even did so in style, winning 5 of 6 tournaments she participated in. She even fought hard to don the Malaysian jersey for the Asian Games team event and the World Team Championship where she won a total of 9 matches out of 10 that she played in.
However the true test for Wee Wern was the elite level of the PSA Tour and she showed during the Tournament of Champions in January that she was not quite there just yet. She may be injury free but her confidence on court and decision making was still leaving a lot to be desired. So it was back to the drawing board for her and she responded in some style as she made a stunning run in finishing runners-up at the Macau Open. Along the way, she even took out a trio of higher ranked Egyptian players – second seed Salma Hany, eighth seed Nadine Shahin and sixth seed Zeina Mickawy – all of whom are very capable of playing top level squash.
In doing so, Wee Wern achieved her best run on the PSA World Tour since she won the China Open in 2014 and it also brought her up 10 rungs to No. 28 in the world. Not a bad showing indeed and certainly worthy of the April Player of the Month Award.
“I have only been back playing competitively since the end of July last year and I can only get better from here. I am still finding my game and my confidence which is an area I lacked ever since my comeback. I am still a work in progress and there is still so much more to achieve but I’m definitely looking forward to better days ahead,” said Wee Wern.
Meanwhile an honourable mention goes to youngster Noor Ainaa Amani Ampandi who played some of her best squash in April. The 17-year-old KL girl has certainly come a long way and scored impressive results in reaching the final of the SRAM PSA 1 and helping herself to two gold medals at the SEA Cup. Her finest moment was however beating Aifa Azman – a player she has never beaten before – during the SRAM PSA 2.
March Player of the Month: Jessica Keng
The Sabahan has always been one of the more promising players in the national junior setup. Consistency however has bugged the 16-year-old’s progress as she can blow hot or cold. Still, 2019 has been a good run for Jessica and she stepped up when it mattered to claim a double gold medal haul for Sabah at the MSSM competition and to also earn SRAM’s March Player of the Month award. It has been quite a while since Jessica Keng made headlines by winning the Under-13 title of the British Junior Open in 2015. Since then, Jessica’s progress has somewhat slowed down a little.
But the Sabahan is still a very good player at junior level, evident when she won the SEA Cup individual gold medal in 2018 and made the quarter-finals in the Under-17 category of the British Juniors. She was also the fourth member of the girls’ team that bagged the Asian Junior Team Championships title in January. It is in March however that Jessica really lived up to expectations. Despite reeling from a semi-final defeat in the first leg of the CIMB National Junior Circuit, the 16-year-old bounced back strongly to take the individual gold medal at the MSSM (Malaysian schools) competition by beating fellow Sabahan Yee Xin Ying in the final.
Not satisfied with just that, Jessica then led Sabah to a superb victory in the team event, beating Kedah 2-1 in the final. It is Sabah’s first team triumph and shows just how far the East Malaysian state has come. More importantly, Jessica has also shown that she is maturing well and is able to take on back-to-back competitions in both individual and team events. With some major junior events such as the Asian Junior Championships and the World Junior Championships just a few months away, it is certainly a timely boost for the national squad.
“Winning the MSSM gold medal was very important for me because I felt down after losing out in the NJC,” said Jessica. I trained harder since the NJC loss and I managed to polish up my playing style. I certainly proved myself on court with the MSSM gold. It is also great that we won the team gold because Sabah has never won it before so it’s creating some sort of history as well.”
Jessica’s fine showing certainly merits her taking the March Player of the Month award. She is also the first women’s player to grab the award this year. But Jessica isn’t satisfied just yet and has also set her sights on defending her single crown at the SEA Cup which will be held in Manila, Philippines from April 9-13. SRAM congratulates Jessica on her recent fine form and achievements and hopes she uses this as a stepping stone to keep on producing outstanding results in the coming days.
February Player of the Month: Addeen Idrakie
The diminutive player has been faithful to the national setup for many years now. At 25, Addeen is already in his mid-20s and has mostly endured a career that have plagued by inconsistency and bad luck with injuries. Addeen however put that behind him with a fine performance at the Singapore Squash Circuit to take home SRAM’s February Player of the Month award. It’s certainly frustrating to be a player in Addeen Idrakie’s mould. He’s hardworking, down-to-earth and generally an all-round nice guy on and off the court. However he’s never been blessed with the best physique for squash and he’s always had to work extra hard on court.
Addeen’s best weapons is his speed, which he makes full use of due to his shorter stature. That however doesn’t work well when he’s down injured. Having gone through a couple of unlucky breaks in his career, Addeen is now only ranked No. 98 in the world and has seen younger players surpass him over the years. One would say Addeen has stagnated and isn’t going anywhere in squash. But the Selangor-born doesn’t give up easily. After a fresh start to 2019 where he made the semi-finals of the Hong Kong Challenge Cup in January, the now 25-year-old kept that momentum going by clinching the Singapore Squash Circuit title last month.
The Singapore meet is only a closed satellite event but it meant the world for Addeen, especially for his confidence. He certainly showed plenty of that in beating the home favourite Samuel Kang 11-7, 11-8, 12-10 in the final.With the large budget cuts means Addeen is only given five tournaments a year, the win also serves up a reminder that he is still very much relevant in the national setup. And Addeen is certainly looking to use that as a stepping stone to continue pushing up the rankings this year.
“I’m happy with my performance because I’ve played Samuel twice last year, losing one and winning the other so I know he’s a good player,” admitted Addeen. More importantly though, the tournament in Singapore is to serve as a preparation for my next PSA events. Since I can only go for five tournaments under the budget allocated to me, I have to be smarter and pick tournaments that I can do well in order to gain the rankings points. My next tournaments will be two events in Canada. One is a PSA 20 and another a PSA 10. It’s going to be tough for me but I’m looking to at least make the quarter-finals. Following that I’m heading off to Australia at the end of the month for a PSA 5 event. I’m funding this Australian trip on my own and my target is to win that. It’s going to be a very busy month for me but I’m feeling prepared and confident and hopefully everything turns out well for me this time.”
That’s just the commitment that earned him the Player of the Month for February and it is with good hope that Addeen keeps up his momentum and continue to produce results.
January Player of the Month: Siow Yee Xian
The bespectacled-Melakan enjoyed a exceptional finish to the British Junior Open as he exceeded expectations by reaching the semi-finals. He also helped Malaysia to a joint third placed finish at the Asian Junior Team Championships by winning all his matches and is deservingly SRAM’s January Player of the Month. SIOW Yee Xian would not have looked back fondly at 2018 to say the least. The lanky Melakan blew a chance to win the Under-19 title at the Asian Junior Individual Championships and also could not step up when needed as Malaysia suffered a quarter-final defeat to the Czech Republic at the World Junior Team Championships. But Yee Xian knows just how to put disappointment behind him as he made sure not to have any regrets by delivering sensational performances in both the British Juniors and the Asian Junior Teams.
First, he gave Czech’s Ondrej Vorlicek an 11-9, 11-2, 11-1 thumping in the quarter-finals of the British Juniors to make the semi-finals for the first time ever. It was sweet revenge for Yee Xian who was beaten by Vorlicek in the team meet of the world juniors last year. He then put up feisty challenge to home favourite Nick Wall before losing 6-11, 11-9, 4-11, 9-11 in the semi-finals. Yee Xian was also beaten 8-11, 5-11, 2-11 by Egypt’s Omar El Torkey in the third place playoff. It was nevertheless still a remarkable achievement as no Malaysian boy had made the semi-finals of the Under-19 category since Ng Eain Yow in 2016. Yee Xian then played his part well as he won all the matches he played although Malaysia fell short in their defeat to India in the semi-finals of the Asian Junior Team meet. For Yee Xian however, the run at the British Juniors was the one that mattered most to him and it was a shot of confidence that he could take on the world’s best.
“I’ve never even made the quarter-finals of the British Juniors before this and I’m really happy that I made it until the semi-finals this time,” revealed the world No. 361. “Of course it was a bit disappointing the team didn’t do so well in the Asian meet but its a learning experience as a team. It’s just like my own experience when I lost to Vorlicek at the world junior teams last year. I know the team will learn from this defeat and grow stronger together for the next tournament. As for myself, my next target is to win the Asian Junior Individual and to go on to the World Junior Championships and do well as well. I certainly feel that I have a chance after the British Juniors. I feel that I’ve proven to myself that I can compete among the best and it’s really a shot of self-belief,” added Yee Xian.
The Asian and World Juniors will be Yee Xian’s last junior events as he turns 19 in October so he will surely be looking to cap his junior career on a high. But for he now he will deservingly earn the honour as SRAM’s first recipient of Player of the Month for the month of January.