LANKY Cheong Kah Wah is only 13 but has already shown his potential in squash.
The Perak-born Cheong despite his age is making his presence felt in the higher age group.
In the recent grand finals of the Milo-SportExcel junior circuit, Cheong made it to the final in the Under-17 age group.
Though he lost 8-10, 3-9, 3-9 to Kuwait's Shamlan Ahmed, Cheong was commended for his gutsy display.
Cheong admitted that he was sad to lose but felt that the match against Shamlan was a good experience.
He was older than me. As such he was more experienced and I managed to match him,'' said Cheong after the match.
Although Cheong is only 13, the Squash Rackets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) have exposed the youngster, a Form One student of SMJK (C) Sam Tet, to many overseas competitions.
And Cheong has also justified SRAM having faith in him by doing well in local and international competitions.
This year, he was given the opportunity to play in five international competitions.
In the Australia Tri Series, Cheong, the youngest in a family of two boys and girl, emerged as the champion in the Anthony Ricketts Classic and Michelle Martin Classic in the Under-13 category.
In the Milo-International Junior All Stars, Cheong finished sixth in the Under-15 age group. In the Asian Junior championships in Singapore, Cheong finished a credible third in the Under-15 age group while in the Pioneer Cup in Germany he was second in the Under-15 category.
He has come a long way since he started playing squash at six years old. His siblings Kah Weng, 18 and Ei Leng, 21 and Cheong used to follow their father Siew Khoon to the courts.
Siew Khoon was a social squash player and encouraged his children to take up the sport.
Cheong said his brother and sister had represented Perak in several age group championships.
Now they are in college and only play social squash. But my father has been a big inspiration to me. He encourages me a lot. My mother is also supportive and ferries me to my daily training sessions,'' said Cheong.
His first competition was the Milo-Malaysian Schools Sports Council (MSSM) championships in 2001.
He was a first round casualty. Instead of brooding over his lost, Cheong trained harder and tasted success in the following year.
It was in the Perak Closed championships, Cheong won the Under-12 title after beating Ng Joo Keat in the final.
Naturally Cheong was happy and trained with more vigour and was soon drafted into the Elite squad in Perak.
As a member of the programme, Cheong trains five days a week under the watchful eyes of Sadig Mohamed and Leong Yie Mun.
Both Sadig and Leong have been helping me a lot. I also get to spar with the senior players. I owe my progress to their guidance,'' he said.
Squash has also given Cheong the opportunity to travel. Since last year, Cheong had visited India, Hong Kong, Singapore, England, Germany and Holland to play in competitions.
I love travelling and it gives me the chance meet new friends. I get to visit the interesting places,'' he said.
Just like other young squash players in the country, Cheong idolises Nicol David and is eager to follow her footsteps and join the professional ranks.
But Cheong, who scored 7As in the UPSR, is also eager to excel in his studies. His ambition is to be a lawyer.
I don't have any problem dividing my time between squash and studies,'' he added.