Written by: Shalom Alexandra
Edited by: Ng Shu Chin
For reasons best left unsaid, this was the most exciting match of the IHG season for me so far. With part of last year’s dream team (Prof Dan and hall master’s son Weng Shian) on the line up that night, things were looking favourable for the game against Sheares Hall. Under the IHG rules, there are 5 sets to each match (won with the best of 5), and 5 matches for the night.
Unfortunately, Weng Shian was, at that moment, on a flight back to Singapore. As the starting time drew near, it was clear he was not going to make it to the SRC in time, unless – quoting Zimmerman – the plane landed on the NUS field. Meanwhile, there were curious whispers among the SH supporters at the sight of Prof Dan in a ‘KEVII SCRC’ shirt doing his warm ups. As I sat at the border between the SH supporters and the KE squash guys, feeling the tension in my bones, the game was on!
With a cute game of scissors paper stone instead of the typical racket spin, Jia Nan got to serve first. I soon noticed that, unlike other ball games where you have to stay on one side, squash is a game involving rapid movements all around. Your opponent can also be a direct obstruction to you. Jia Nan was oftentimes unable to get around his opponent’s huge build to reach the ball in time, and the set was lost narrowly at 11-9.
The score stood at 5-0 to KE within the first 2 mins with Jia Nan’s sleek moves that prompted even the Sheares team to shout “nice one”. At 8-5 to KE, I noticed that the crash of the ball against metal (dubbed ‘hitting the tin’) always made the audience break out in cheers – it meant a certain point. KE won the set soon after with a score of 11-5.
Following a botched drop shot and disputed ‘let’ call (obstruction from the opponent), the score equalised at 5 all. Jia Nan began to tense up noticeably as the score levelled again at 7-all and 8-all. After a long fight for the set point, Jia Nan swore as he lost narrowly again 11-9. However, he quickly made it up with a fist bump to dissolve the tension.
If Sheares won this set, they would take the match. Thus, Jia Nan fought extra hard to bring the game back to KE. Most unfortunately, he made multiple errors in serving. Despite a valiant fight, the game was eventually lost as the set ended 11-9 to SH.
What Prof Dan lacked in speed due to age, he made up with skills unseen elsewhere that night. He also had a knack of making the opponent slam himself into the wall of his own accord. When the score equalised at 10-all, it came down to who could rise up above all to break the deuce. Turns out, it was Prof Dan! Despite missing his initial attempt and swinging at fresh air, he recovered by hitting the ball against the glass. Moments later he returned another ball by hitting it in between his legs. Needless to say, he won the set deservedly with a score of 15-13.
After the beauty of the previous match, Prof Dan seemed to be conserving his energy this round. At one point he simply leaned against the wall and nonchalantly hit the ball off the corner, sending his opponent scrambling. It seemed at this point that the opponent was revolving around our beloved Prof. At 10-all, both players fought to break the deuce (again), but this time, SH was able to edge over Prof Dan’s fatigue to take the set 14-12.
SH kept disputing the umpire’s decisions – he called for a ‘stroke’ (obstruction for a winning point) when he was only granted a let. He proceeded to open the glass doors to argue for it further. Prof Dan maintained his cool, though he was tired from his exertions. SH eventually won the set 11-6.
There was no mercy from SH this time (perhaps he was disgruntled that a much older man could keep him on his toes for so long), and the score was 6-0 to SH in a flash. At 10-3 (game point to SH), Prof’s exhaustion clearly showed through. Even then, he managed to keep the game going to 5-10, before conceding the match to SH with a score of 11-5.
The squash newbie chosen to replace Weng Shian called himself the “sacrificial lamb” – he was unfortunately placed against Sheares’ squash captain. As he stepped into the court, his ever-helpful neighbour and teammate Si Rong quipped that it was a gone case and asked the opponent to ‘give chance’, while Zimmerman reminded him to have more confidence in himself.
Initially, it seemed that De Sheng was not as bad as he described himself to be, as the score stood at a reasonable 2-1. However, the opponent soon revealed why he was the squash captain as the score climbed up to 6-1 (to SH). While De Sheng gave his best and actually executed some beautiful shots, he was unable to keep up with his opponent’s techniques, and SH won the set 11-1.
I told De Sheng at this point that his opponent was so small compared to him that if he just flexed his arms a little it would strike fear into his enemy’s heart. What I did not expect was for him to roll up his sleeves to actually display his muscles.
Amazingly, it worked to some extent. He played better in this set than he did in the previous one – and the score was 11-3 to SH this time. An improvement! 😀
In this set, De Sheng attempted several drop shots. While not all of them succeeded, one has to give him A+ for effort. While many players wait for the ball to hit the floor first, De Sheng used his height advantage to go straight for overhead shots, earning him a few points. The match ultimately ended with a score of 11-3 to SH once more.
From the onset, it seemed that this would be our first win against Sheares. Zhao Ming was evidently superior in both skills and agility. Though he hit the tin a couple of times, he ended the set rapidly and easily with a score of 11-4.
Zhao Ming was clearly chilling out at this point, and at 4-3 to KE, he conceded a couple of points due to minor mistakes. At 5-all, I started asking myself, “Why is he smiling so much?” – seriously though, it was starting to worry me. Was it a locked jaw? A recurring amusing thought? I will never know. In any case, he fell down on his behind soon after but still managed to score because the opponent did not expect him to return the hit while on the ground. KE won the set 11-5.
Still grinning widely, Zhao Ming feathered the ball repeatedly into a bottom corner, giving no chance for SH to return them. While he initially dominated the match at 5-1, the score was 3-5 (to KE) after a couple of service errors. With many well-executed drop shots afterwards (which were impossible to return for amateurs), it was soon game point to KE, and the set was won 11-5.
From the start, Kenneth’s shots often hit the tin, while his opponent hit way too high above the boundaries. The SH player was apparently a walking time bomb – his team mates had to ask him to calm down or relax every other second. Kenneth’s technique was rather raw, but his quick reflexes allowed him to return every ball. As the score stood at 8-6 to KE, the Sheares supporters started to shout, “Finish him!” which, in my humblest opinion (insert many disclaimer clauses), is not a very nice thing to say. After a close fight of bristling hostility, the match ended 11-9 to SH.
The game proceeded rapidly, and the score stood at 7-4 to KE within minutes. After a bunch of befuddling terms like outball, drop shot, and kill shot, the score tied at 9-all, 10-all, and again at 11-all. After two appeals for a stroke by SH, they were granted a point as Kenneth hit the ball towards himself, and hence ‘obstructed’ the opponent. The SH player then played with such ferocity that Kenneth was forced to pull off a matrix bullet time move to save his face from being smashed by the black missile. The set ended 13-11 to SH.
As before, the fight was a close one, with the score drawing at 7-all. Though Kenneth’s movements were lightning fast, his drop shots often backfired instead of succeeding. After a particularly intense rally, the opponent smashed the ball extra hard. With that final move, the last set went to SH 11-9.
Thus, the night ended with a final score of 4-1 to SH, but we congratulate the squash guys for putting up such a spirited fight against all odds. Well done! 🙂
Photos courtesy of KE Vision