Baptism of fire for young ’uns

A PAIR of 15-year-old budding squash talents from Penang — Vanessa Raj and Celine Yeap — were thrown into the fray when the PBA-Nusmetro 16th Asian Individual Championship came to town.

With the Squash Rackets Association of Penang (SRAP) handed the hosting job, their coaches Aaron Soyza and Khoo Teng Hin were promptly given the blessing to blood the two into the tournament dominated by players very much their seniors, including the World Number One in Penang’s very own Nicol David.

Both Aaron and Teng Hin, who are personal coaches to Celine and Vanessa respectively, snapped at the opportunity to allow their top students a taste of the senior level.

Although both girls found their opponents too hot to handle and failed to get through the first round of the main draw, the exposure gained was priceless.

Vanessa failed to get past South Korean Yang Yeon Soo, going down in straight games of 11-4, 11-9, 11-8, while Celine went down to Japan’s Konzue Onizawa at three, six and seven.

Even when they were presented a second chance to continue their challenge in the Plate category, or rather the losers’ pool as it is commonly termed, the seniors still proved too good.

While Celine crashed out in the first round, going down to Hong Kong’s Carmen Lee Ka-Man 11-4, 11-1, 11-6, Vanessa did slightly better by checking into the second round.

She managed to beat Jemyca Aribado of the Philippines 13-11, 11-7, 12-10.

However that was the furthest she managed as, like Celine, she failed to get past a more experienced Carmen later.

Vanessa beat the Hong Kong lass 11-5 in the first game but Carmen bounced back to win the match.

She won the remaining sets 11-6, 11-3, 11-4.

Vanessa was not disappointed as she felt she had already given her best.

“My presence at the senior level may be brief but it was very memorable,” she said.

“Although I failed to get past the first round of the main draw, the experience and the exposure gained were most valuable as it has given me an insight of what to expect in the near future.

“But what has made it even more memorable was my success in registering a win in the tournament.

“Although it only came in the Plate Category, it is one victory that I will long cherish, since it was achieved at a senior level competition,” said Vanessa.

Vanessa added that her experience at the senior-level tournament was a big encouragement to her squash career, and it would inspire her to do even better in the tournaments to come.

Celine was equally excited and inspired.

“We were very nervous as we were playing those who were already rich in experience,” she said.

“With such tough opponents before us, I cannot be disappointed even to have crashed out in the first round of the main draw as well as in the Plate category.

“As far as I am concerned, it was a valuable experience and knowing that I have already given my best in my campaign is good enough,” she said.

Celine added that with the third leg of the CIMB Junior Circuit just around the corner and to be held at the same venue this weekend, she was all geared up.

With their debut at the senior level proving to be so memorable, both Vanessa and Celine are hoping they will get to shine and mature into better players in the near future.

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