Friday, October 1, 2010

Squash: Time to break the jinx

SQUASH has brought a great measure of success for Malaysia on the international map, mainly through the efforts of Nicol David, but the Commonwealth Games is one event where the sport has yet to come through. The mixed doubles silver medal won by Ong Beng Hee and Nicol in 2002 is all that the national players have to show after three appearances in the Commonwealth Games, but the scenario is set to change in New Delhi.

Nicol is the hot favourite to win the women's singles gold which so painfully eluded her in Melbourne four years ago and it is difficult to see who can deny the five-time world champion her date with destiny.

Clearing her path to the top step of the podium at the Siri Fort Sports Complex is the absence of all three medallists from 2006.

Natalie Grinham is unable to defend her gold medal having switched allegiance from Australia to the Netherlands while her sister Rachael, the silver medallist in 2006, is at loggerheads with Squash Australia and refuses to be part of the Australian team.

New Zealand's Shelley Kitchen, who denied Nicol the bronze in Melbourne, is out injured, leaving Northern Ireland's Madeline Perry and the English trio of Jenny Duncalf, Alison Waters and Laura Massaro as Nicol's main concern.

Nicol will not meet any of the quartet until the quarter-finals where Laura should provide the opposition while Madeline lurks as a potential threat in the semi-finals.

After winning the World Open with such ease just two weeks ago, Nicol is looking forward to her latest challenge and even the chaotic situation with the Delhi organisers could not dampen her enthusiasm.

"Everything (is) just looking fine, everything will be good when we get (good) results, no problem," Nicol told Reuters after the successful defence of her world title in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

"I think with the Games, there is always going to be something going on. But once the Games (starts)... I think the players, the elite group, will be all in good form."

While all Malaysian hopes rest on Nicol, Azlan Iskandar cannot be discounted to spring a surprise having won the Malaysian Open and Irish Open in two of his last three tournaments.

The Asian champion has a clear run at the semi-finals with only Daryl Selby, the much-improved fourth seed from England, standing in his way.

Beng Hee, possibly making his fourth and final Commonwealth Games appearance, is seeded ninth but has a tough hurdle to overcome in the shape of Australian fifth seed David Palmer in round three.

The national's No 2's best chance of medal though may come in the mixed doubles where he resumes his partnership with Nicol and the pair have been seeded third behind Kasey Brown and Cameron Pilley of Australia and England's Jenny Duncalf and James Willstrop.

Azlan will team up with Nafiizwan Adnan in the men's doubles where they are the sixth seeds while Low Wee Wern will seek to capitalise on her fine run to the World Open quarter-finals by making a similar bid in New Delhi.

Read more: NST/

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