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Wednesday, February 21, 2001

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Azlan, Nicol do Malaysia proud


By S. R. Suryanarayan

CHENNAI, FEB 20: A Malaysian dream came true on Tuesday when Mohd Azlan Iskandar became the first boy from that country to win the Asian junior squash title.

In a pulsating final that had every spectator glued to the action, the top seeded Malaysian bounced back from arrears to put it across Pakistan's Shahid Zaman in five games. None could believe that the contest had wore on to over an hour and a quarter, for such was the intensity of the contest, quality dished out by the two contestants and most of all the never-say- die attitude of the two top juniors of Asia. And even before the victory sank into the genial Azlan, Malaysia had made it a double with Nicol David, the world junior champion, dousing out whatever little fight her compatriot Tricia Chuah had while retaining the girls title she had won in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.

The evening undoubtedly belonged to Shahid and Azlan, two supremely talented players but each pursuing a different goal. Shahid, the second seed, was keen to keep Pakistan's domination in Asian junior squash intact while Azlan was aiming for history. But for the moderate gathering at the ICL Academy courts it was an enthralling contest where no quarter was asked none given. The two players swayed and glided for amazing low returns to bring forth the finer points of the game, then the Pakistani often chose to present the other side by questioning the Referee's ruling (on `let' and `stroke').

``I think he (Referee Yogendra Singh) was wrong,'' he was to state after the match but Azlan on the other hand was clear that `Shahid could have avoided all that acts.'

All the same these moments hardly took away the essence of the contest, which started on an electrifying note with Shahid blasting winners, straight and crosscourt as also forcing Azlan into mistakes. It seemed for a moment that an earlier loss to Shahid in the World junior championship in Italy last year was still working on Azlan's mind. But the Malaysian changed gears in the second game after earning just one point in the first. `Test his patience' was his ploy and doing it by jacking up pace. Still points went neck and neck with some incredible returns and drops forming the icing but the turning point was when from a 9-8 situation, just a point from annexing the second game, Shahid's backhand slice took the tin. Azlan was into the match there.

Azlan teased the Pakistani with long rallies with varying returns but Shahid is no pushover, clawed his way back. A few cross court drives were telling as the Malaysian crumbled. The fourth game went the longest as the test of nerves saw both players struggle with frequent handouts. Azlan won that epic battle of wits and with that took a vice like grip on the match.

In total contrast was the way Nicol downed Tricia. A contest between contestants of the same country can drop in intensity and so it was with Tricia, the second seed more often accepting that her famed rival's shots were beyond her. Expectedly the match ended in a jiffy with Nicol blanking her in the third and final game.

The team events get underway on Wednesday.

Following are the groupings:

Boys: Pool A: Pakistan, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Korea, Japan, Bangladesh. Pool B: Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Jordan, Bahrain. Girls: Pool A: Malaysia, Singapore, Japan. Pool B: Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, Korea.

The top teams from each Pool advance into the semifinal knock-out round. In view of the stiff schedule of matches, the MCC courts are also to be utilised.

The results:

Boys final: Mohd Azlan Iskandar (Mal) beat Shahid Zaman (Pak) 1- 9, 10-9, 4-9, 9-7, 9-1.

Girls final: Nicol David (Mal) beat Tricia Chuah (Mal) 9-5, 9-6, 9-0.

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