Squash was very much in the news last week because of the just-concluded CIMB Singapore Masters. The women's tournament was eventually won by Malaysia's world No. 1, Nicol David.
Whenever I read news about this game which I used to love, I feel a certain sadness. I am sure many squash lovers of my generation feel that way too. Especially painful are reports of Malaysia thrashing us in a game that we used to dominate in this part of the world.
I wonder if younger Singaporeans know that at one time, Singapore was one of the top squash nations in the world. I believe we were ranked within the top 10 in the world at one stage. In Asia we were second only to Pakistan. And we regularly won the East Asia Squash Championships. And of course, we routinely thrashed our arch rivals Malaysia in our annual encounter.
In the late seventies, squash was immensely popular in Singapore. We had many outstanding young players. The most famous of course was 1986 Sportsman of the Year, Zainal Abidin. At that time we had not one, or two, but four young male squash stars. Let see if I can recall their names from memory. Besides Zainal Abidin, there was Peter Hill. Both of them turned professional subsequently. In those days, it took a lot of courage and commitment to become a professional sportsman. There were two other very young players by the names of Stewart Ballard and Jeremy Yeo. I remember being quite surprised to see Stewart Ballard for the first time because he looked like a Chinese.
As for the ladies, the most famous was Lim Seok Hui. In 1984, at only 17, she became the youngest ever player to win the East Asia Squash title and was crowned Sportsgirl and Sportswoman for that year. Sadly, at the peak of her game, she quit the sport to pursue university education overseas. How sad that at that time we did not have the sport excellence incentives that we have today.
On the international scene, the most famous players hailed from Pakistan. There were a number of them with names ending with 'Khan', the most successful being Jahangir Khan. But for many years, the Pakistanis were frustrated in their attempts to become world champion by an Australian called Geof Hunt. This guy who won the British Open (which was considered to be the effective world championship event involving both amateurs and professionals before the World Open began) eight times between 1969 and 1981.
…….. to be continued.
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