PETITE Aifa Azman is aiming to bag the Hong Kong Open Under-11 girls squash title in her third attempt this year.
She came very close to achieving it last year but was stopped in her tracks in the final by local champion Liu Hui Lam in four sets. The absence of Hui Lam, who will compete in the Under-13 age-group this year, has boosted Aifa’s chances of claiming the title when the Hong Kong Open tournament is played from Aug 8 to 12.
She is among three Kedah squash players who will be sponsored by CIMB for the tournament. The other two are two-time Asian Under-13 champion S. Sivasangari and Kiven Shanmugam.
Sivasangari, who will make her fourth appearance, will compete in the Under-15 category while Kiven will play in the Under-11 category in his debut.
Ten-year-old Aifa, a student of S.K. Jalan Pegawai, Alor Setar, will play in the Under-11 category for the third time. Currently she is the most outstanding Under-11 lass, having bagged all the three legs of the national CIMB tournaments, the Milo All Star and the Penang Open titles this year.
When met at the Muadzam Shah training centre, Aifa oozed with confidence at the prospect of landing her first international title.
She said: “When I made my debut at age eight at the Hong Kong Open tournament, I was overcome by excitement and nerves, and was duly knocked out in the qualifying round.”
She said the early exit proved to be the catalyst which spurred her on to better herself. On her return from that tournament, she worked very hard to improve her game.
“It was a different story last year when I put up a better performance to qualify for the Under-11 final. I gave a good fight against local favourite Hui Lam before losing in four sets.
“The experience gained in the past two years at the Hong Kong Open and various other local tournaments since has made me a better player and I am well prepared to win the Under-11 title in my third attempt this year.
“Moreover, Hui Lam, the player who beat me in the final last year, will not be defending the title and this is a further plus factor in my quest for the title,” she said.
Aifa said her ambition is to follow in the footsteps of her sister Aika who participated in the prestigious British Open championships in 2011.
“Winning the Hong Kong Open will be a big step for me towards fulfilling my ambition. I want to become a world beater like Nicol David one day,” added the ambitious lass.
Aifa, who took up squash five years ago, was grateful to her grandmother Eshah Mustafa, 61, for introducing her and three other siblings – Akid, Aika and Aira – to the game at a tender age.
Eshah, who sends the Azman siblings to the court for every training session, said that the reason she picked squash as the sport for her grandchildren is to prevent them from engaging in unhealthy activities or roaming around aimlessly during their leisure hours.
“I reckoned squash was the ideal form of recreation for my grandchildren because the game can be participated by boys and girls and the training place was close to our home.
“Hence, I enrolled Akid, who was 11, and his sister Aika (then nine) with the Kedah Squash training programme at the Muadzam Shah Complex in 2006. The following year, I included Aifa and now Aira has joined the band.
“I am glad I made the right choice for the children. They are all focused and enjoy the game now so much that it is they who pester me to drive them to the training sessions,” said Eshah.
Meanwhile, seven other Kedah players will accompany the three CIMB sponsored players to the Hong Kong Open champion- ships. The expenses for the players will be borne by their respective parents.
The seven are Chan Yiwen and Nurul Izzah Razak (Girls Under-13), M. Havineshwaran (Boys Under-11), Ong Sai Hong and Haikal Aiman (Boys UUnder-15), Hafiz Zhafri (Boys Under-13) and S. Puvendran (Boys Under-17).