Squash players do country proud at Games opening

Moment to cherish: Aifa with powerlifter Bonnie Bunyau Gustin during the opening ceremony. — Bernama

THE feat may have gone unnoticed but women’s squash has received deserving recognition as six players were given the honour by their respective nations to become flagbearers at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on Thursday.

Aifa Azman followed Malaysian legend Nicol David’s footsteps to become the flagbearer with para powerlifter Bonnie Bunyau Gustin at the Alexander Stadium. In 2014, Nicol led eight Asian countries during the Glasgow Games.

The others given the mandate from the sport at this edition are New Zealand’s Joelle King, 45-year-old Australian icon Rachael Grinham, Tesni Evans of Wales, 50-year-old Marlene West of the Cayman Islands and Bermuda’s Emma Keane.

Nicol was thrilled with the highlight on the women players.

“I’m glad to see the representation of women’s squash being recognised at the opening ceremony and to be able to showcase our sport as well,” said Nicol.

“I carried the flag at the opening ceremony at Glasgow 2014. It was a very special moment for me to have that honour in representing the Asian region and I’ll cherish it always.

“I do hope this will be something for Aifa to be proud of and then she can bring this forward to her matches in the Games. I hope our team will make the most of their outing and I wish them the very best there.”

Meanwhile, team manager Major (rtd) S. Maniam said it was an honour for the sport and a great promotion for women’s squash.

“We are very pleased that six squash players, Aifa being one of them, were flagbearers for their respective countries.

“All of them are women and there’s something to talk about in squash.”

Top women player S. Sivasangari was supposed to hold the flag but a car accident a few weeks before the Games forced her out and Aifa assumed the responsibility.

While Nicol had carried the burden on her shoulders for the last six Games, Malaysia have assembled a new team with Rachel, Ivan Yuen and Ng Eain Yow as players with past Commonwealth Games experience.

Syafiq Kamal, Addeen Idrakie and Ong Sai Hung as well as their women counterparts Aifa, Chan Yiwen and Ainaa Amani Ampandi are making their debuts.

Maniam said the newcomers have been relaxed despite competing in their first major Games.

“The players are coping well. The seniors like Ivan, Yow and Rachel are sort of a guide for the others. The first-timers don’t show any kind of stage fright, which I’m pleased with,” he said.

“They are looking forward to the doubles (starting Wednesday). Things are going well and everybody is in high spirits.”

Malaysians held their own on Saturday as Ivan, Eain Yow, Rachel and Yiwen joined Aifa into the last 16.

Ivan overcame Australia Rhys Dowling 11-9, 9-11, 11-4, 11-5 while Eain Yow defeated Jason Ray Khalil of Guyana 11-4, 11-2, 11-4 in their second round matches.

In the women’s second round, Rachel defeated Amna Fayyaz of Pakistan 11-3, 11-2, 11-5 while Yiwen overcame another Pakistani player Faiza Zafar 11-3, 11-6, 11-5.

Malaysia are expected to do better in the mixed doubles on Thursday, where a pair or two may even surprise by reaching the last four.

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