KEDAH student Sivasangari Subramaniam may have lost in the 2012 British Junior Open squash Under-15 final but she was still a heroine in the eyes of her schoolmates from SMK Sultanah Asma in Alor Setar.
A busload of her schoolmates travelled all the way from the Kedah capital to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to welcome her back recently.
They were led by the school’s senior assistant for co-curriculum Fatimah Mohamad who handed a bouquet of flowers to Sivasangari.
Also on the flight with Sivasangari was fellow Kedahan Aifa Azman, 10, who had made her debut in the British Junior Open but was eliminated in the last 16 stage of the Under-13 category.
Aifa, who is a student of SK Jalan Pegawai in Alor Setar, had earned the trip to the tournament by lifting the Hong Kong Junior Open Under-11 title last year.
Accompanying the two girls was Kedah chief squash coach Cheong Pak Kau while fellow coach Mubashir Gul welcomed them at the airport.
Sivasangari, who turns 14 on Jan 24, conceded that she lost to a better opponent, Habiba Mohamad from Egypt, in the finals in Sheffield.
It was the first appearance by the Form Two student in a final at the British Open in three attempts, after having lost to Habiba in 2010 and Aminah Yousri from Egypt in 2011, both in the Under-13 semi-finals. She finished fourth in 2010 and third in 2011. Sivasangari defeated Ami-nah in the 2012 Under-15 semi-final.
Sivasangari, who is the MSSM (National Schools Sports Council) 2011 Promising Sportsgirl of the Year, was remorseful for not being in a better physical condition in the final.
She said she had to play in the final under duress of pain as she had blistered feet which she sustained during her three-hour semi-final victory over another Egyptian, Menat Hamed, whom she beat 3-2.
“I had lost to Habiba in the Under-13 semi-final narrowly (2-3) in 2011 and had looked forward to avenging that defeat in the 2012 Under-15 final but failed to come anywhere near my best.
“She is taller, faster, with a better reach and possesses powerful strokes. I had to scramble to stay in the fight. After losing the first two sets, I went all out in the third set and managed to stretch her to 12-14 before losing the match.
“I could have done better if not for the blistered feet,” said Sivasangari who lost in three sets of 8-11, 6-11, 12-14.
She pledged to work hard for another shot at the title this year.
“I expect Habiba to be the stumbling block again. My coach Cheong Pak Kau, who watched the final, will help me to work on my game to counter Habiba’s strength,” Sivasangari said during a training session on Sunday at the Hijau Kuning sports complex in Alor Setar, not long after her return from England.
She has made steady progress since her debut in the British Open in 2010 and only time will tell what is in store for her.
Sivasangari has also collected a string of national and international titles during the past four years, including the Pontefract Dunlop Junior Open Under-13 crown in Leeds, England in 2010. She was the champion in the Under-13 of the Asian championships in Jordan in 2011 and took the Hong Kong Junior Open Under-13 crown in 2010 and 2011 and Under-15 crown last year.
Sivasangari was also the Under-15 champion in the Asian Junior meet in Iran last year.
She was the national Under-9, Under-11 and Under-13 champion and has reached the highest national ranking of number two in the Under-15 category in 2011.