Saturday, August 9, 2008

The next Nicol David?

Taken from The Star
Monday December 10, 2007

VANESSA Raj was the toast of the Penang elite squash squad when she returned the Nicol David Challenge Trophy to the state after a two-year absence.

Her efforts at the Muadzam Shah courts in Alor Star also helped Penang secure the team title at the national Milo-Elite squash tournament for Under-12 players.

Vanessa beat Celine Yeap 9-0, 9-5, 9-1 in an all-Penang final.

This is the sixth time that a Penangite had won the coveted trophy since its inception nine years ago by Nestle to unearth talented players for admission to the Bukit Jalil Sports School.

The inaugural winner was Sarawakian June Tiong (1999). Since then, Penang players have won it every year except in 2005 and 2006 when Tan Yan Xin and Yong Sue Ann, both from Selangor, captured the trophy.
The past winners from Penang were Nabila Ariffin (2000), Low Wee Wern (2001 and 2002), Nas-serine Ariffin (2003) and Low Wee Nee (2004).

“I am so proud to become the holder of the Nicol David challenge trophy and at the same time put Penang back on the pedestal.

“I dedicate this win to my parents (Robert and Flomina) for their support and encouragement and my coach of one-and-a-half years, Khoo Teng Hin,” said a bea-ming Vanessa.

As for attending school at Bukit Jalil, she said that she had not come to a decision yet.

Her coach Teng Hin said: “Vanessa has good potential to become a future champion. She has made tremendous strides under my tutelage.”

She was attracted to the game at six through her elder brother Brian’s involvement.

Brian is the reigning Penang Under-18 champion.

In the inter-team final against Selangor, Vanessa scored the winning point for Penang by beating Yong Sue Ann 9-7, 9-3, 9-4.

Lim Jee Nee had given Penang the opening point with a hard-fought four-set victory over T. Mithila, 3-9, 9-1, 9-3, 9-3.

Meanwhile, Shaun Kwan played a pivotal role in Kuala Lumpur’s success by winning the boys’ Ong Beng Hee individual trophy and the inter-team title.

In the individual final, Shaun defeated his team-mate Mohd Hanan 9-6, 5-9, 10-8, 9-2.

He also helped Kuala Lumpur to overcome Pahang 2-0 in the inter-team final with a 9-0, 9-5, 9-5 win against Al Nikc Ally Abdul Rahim.

Raja Abas Raja Azman had given Kuala Lumpur the first point by beating Choh Calveen 9-6, 9-2, 9-0.

A total of 120 players from all the states except Perak participated in this annual tournament.


I first met Vanessa two years ago. In 2006, I took up squash to fulfill my co-curriculum requirements. USM imposed a regulation to complete certain unit of co-curriculum activities for undergraduates, ranging from archery, badminton, swimming, tennis and lots more. Failing to meet this requirement would exempt us from graduating.

I am no stranger to squash. I was MSSM Malacca under 15 silver medallist in 2000, and won gold medal in the team event the same year. In 2003, I was made captain to lead KMK in which I won every match, only dropping a set against a KMJ player. The rest, I won with straight set.

When I arrived in USM, I faced a harsh reality. There was a hell of good players here. I struggled to keep up, and finally resigned from taking squash too seriously.

I subsequently lost interest in squash...the game which I once regarded as " The Beautiful Game"

It was not until one late afternoon, when I decided to stay back after the class had dismissed. I played alone...trying to recapture my lost stroke. Squash is a game of art...a very beautiful art. If we hit the ball correctly, the ball will keep bouncing beautifully until it came back to us.

An Indian family entered, a woman with her daughter and son.

Feeling tired and worn out, I took a rest.

The woman asked me to be his son's sparring offer I couldn't refused. A young boy in his fifteen's, I thought I could teach him some lessons. After all, I have 5 years experience in squash, and had competed in numerous high-level tournaments.

But, in the end, it was him who had taught me some painful lessons. He crushed me 9-0, 9-0...without dropping a single point. I was sparring with a monster, albeit a young one.

He was non other than Brian...then a rising 13 year old squash prodigy. He is the elder brother of Vanessa. Fresh from winning the under 15 title, he was on a break before embarking on another tournament. Personally, I was not quite pleased with his somewhat arrogant attitude. But he was an incredible player...the reason (for me) it was OK for him to be a bit arrogant.

Vanessa was then an innocent ten year old girl. She constantly refused to strike the ball...citing she was tired as an excuse. Her mother asked her to have me as her sparring partner. She hesitated at first, but accepted her mother's request later on.

As a 20 year old boy, I was certainly stronger and faster than her. But she constantly outwitted me with her excellent shot. She has a very good stroke...and excellent technique too.

But whenever she failed to strike the ball properly, she would throw out her racquet and sat at the center of the court all alone. After all, she was only ten. Her emotion got the better of her almost all the time...something that her mother was trying really hard to fix.

When squash classes ended, I rarely went to the squash court. The last time I saw her, she was already about my height. She'd grown up rapidly...and she keeps improving up to this day. Gone are the days when I was able to bully her around in the court. She certainly can humiliate me at ease nowadays...the way her elder brother did to me.

It's not long before she could succeed Nicol David as the world number one. And I'm quite sure she can.