KUALA LUMPUR: The warning signs are there. And the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) had better take heed.
The dismal performances of the top two national men’s players – Mohd Azlan Iskandar (pic) and Ong Beng Hee – at the Koltaka International Open, which ended on Friday, have raised serious doubts about Malaysia’s ability to retain both the team and individual titles at the Asian Championships in Kuwait next week.
National No. 1 Azlan was the biggest flop in Kolkata, crashing out in the first round to unseeded Shahid Zaman of Pakistan.
Beng Hee, though he made it all the way to the final, went down to Pakistan’s world No. 35 Mansoor Zaman, who won’t even be featuring in the Asian meet.
The Kolkata Open was meant to be a warm-up tournament for Azlan and Beng Hee in preparation for the Asian Championships, which will begin on Wednesday.
But what transpired in Kolkata could have an adverse effect on the players’ confidence.
Still, SRAM president Datuk A. Sani Karim believes that Malaysia can retain all four– men’s and women’s individual and team – titles they won in Taiwan two years ago.
Sani, however, did voice concern over the duo’s patchy form, warning them that they cannot take anything for granted in Kuwait.
“It’s not going to be a stroll in the park for Azlan and Beng Hee. Pakistan have a set of strong players who have beaten our top two before,” said Sani.
“Azlan and Beng Hee will have to raise their game in the Asian meet to overcome their failures in the Kolkata Open and also to live up to their top billing.”
Azlan, the world No. 16, is the top seed for the Asian meet while Beng Hee, the world No. 18, is the second seed and is also gunning for his fifth Asian title.
Malaysia created history in Taiwan two years ago by winning all four titles at stake in the men’s and women’s individual and team events.
Besides Azlan and Beng Hee, the other members of the men’s team are Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan and Mohd Asyraf Azan.
World No. 1 Nicol David should have no problem retaining her title for the sixth time in a row. She will also lead the women’s team.
Sani was confident that even without national number three Tricia Chuah, who was dropped from the team after going AWOL last month, they could still retain the team title.
Top national junior Low Wee Wern will be making her debut in the Asian meet. The other members of the team are Sharon Wee and Delia Arnold.