KUALA LUMPUR – The preparation is all but done and the Malaysian juniors are ready to for the CIMB Foundation WSF World Junior Squash Championships challenge which starts at the National Squash Centre, Bukit Jalil on Tuesday.
With the world juniors back in Malaysia after an 18-year lapse, there is a lot of expectations on the national squad to do well.
All eyes are certainly on the girls’ team, spearheaded by three-time British Junior Open champion Aifa Azman, two-time Asian Junior champion Chan Yiwen with a strong supporting quartet of Ooi Kah Yan, Noor Ainaa Amani Ampandi, Aira Azman and Yee Xin Ying.
The boys – Siow Yee Xian, Duncan Lee, Danial Nurhaqiem, Amir Amirul, Darryl Gan and Adam Agan Aziz – are also expected to up noteworthy showings when they take the court.
And national assistant head coach Andrew Cross, believes it is time for his charges to show the results of their hard work for the past six months.
“The preparation has been good for the past six to seven months. The girls in particular have done pretty well and they are in a much better shape compared to back in January,” said Cross.
“The Asian Junior Championships in Macau last month was a pretty good indication as the likes of Aifa, Yiwen, Kah Yan and Ainaa all put up a strong performance.
“As for the boys, the results didn’t quite pan out but they’ve done okay. They’ve got their confidence going which is the key and we’ve covered as much as we can so we just have to take it forward to see where we’re at.
“Its certainly good to be playing at home once again although there will be pros and cons. The pros is the fact that they have court advantage, the comfort of home and their routine here.
“On the other hand, playing at home also means extra pressure. There will be a lot of expectations from all quarters including the media as everyone can have their say. But as it long as it doesn’t turn into too much input for the players then its fine.
“Overall though, I would expect tough draws as nothing is ever easy. Some of the draws may be favourable but getting a good draw is one thing, taking advantage of it is another.
“Its really down to them to concentrate and get the job done because we can’t win anything just by looking at the draws.”
Its certainly no walk in the park for the girls as Aifa, the joint third-fourth seed, has a tricky path to navigate.
She is expected to meet either Kirstie Wong of Hong Kong or Elisabeth Ross of the United States in the fourth round with England’s Elise Lazarus a potential quarter-final opponent.
If she gets into the semi-finals then she is expected to meet second seed and world No. 88 Jana Shiha of Egypt.
Yiwen on the other hand has a tough showdown with Ainaa in the third round and has an Egyptian test in Sana Ibrahim in the fourth round.
If she lives up to her seeding, then she is expected to face joint third-fourth seed Farida Mohamed, also of Egypt in the last eight.
The draw is certainly tougher for the Malaysian boys as Yee Xian – joint fifth-eighth seed – is the only seeded player among them.
Even then, he’s got a tough road ahead as he’s tipped to meet India’s Tushar Shahani in the third round with a potential meeting with New Zealand’s Gabe Yam in the last 16.
If he lives up to his seeding, he has a mammoth task of taking on defending champion and top seed Mostafa Asal of Egypt in the quarter-finals.
The other boys also have their work cut out for them with Amir is drawn to meet joint ninth-12th seed Ibrahim Mohamed in the third round and Duncan also down to meet Canada’s James Flynn, also a ninth-12th seed in the third round.
“Its tough for the boys, we have to be realistic. But the draw isn’t as bad as it seems,” said Cross.
“For Duncan and Amir, their draws are decent and they really just need to get out there and take advantage of it when they can.
“At the end of the day, what’s important is that they players really just go on and do their best. They just need to show they have it in them to push and to make the country proud when the competition starts,” added Cross.
The competition starts from 11am on Tuesday with all 12 Malaysians seeing action on the first day.