Squash on the upswing
SPORTING CHANCE (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2016 - 12:00am

Squash is coming on strong in the country as the sport gets a big shot in the arm from the PSC and POC in supporting the promotion of what influential business magazine Forbes calls the healthiest game in the world.

Philippine Squash Academy (PSA) president Bob Bachmann and secretary-general Vince Abad Santos are at the forefront of the campaign to push the sport. The NSA for squash used to be known as the Squash Rackets Association of the Philippines (SRAP) but Bachmann recently got the nod of both the World Squash Federation and the POC to agree to the name change because of pending accountabilities related to the SRAP.

In 2003, Forbes made a ranking of the healthiest sports based on the four physiological components of cardio endurance, strength, muscle endurance and flexibility plus injury risk and energy expenditure. “30 minutes on the squash court provides an impressive cardio respirator workout,” said Forbes. “Extended rallies and almost constant running builds muscular strength and endurance in the lower body while lunges, twists and turns increase flexibility in the back and abdomen. For people just getting into the game, it’s almost too much to sustain but once you get there, squash is tremendous. Scores were tallied to arrive at an individual rating for each sport. Of course, physiological benefits, injury risk and calorie burn can vary widely depending upon the technique, vigor, care and enthusiasm with which you pursue a sport.”

For the record, Forbes’ top 10 ranking of the world’s healthiest sports are squash, rowing, rock-climbing, swimming, cross-country skiing, basketball, cycling, running, modern pentathlon and boxing.

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Things began to roll for the PSA when the PSC approved a budget of P6.1 Million for the year from P3.4 Million previously. Then, the PSC gave its go-signal for the construction of a squash hub at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex. The hub will be finished by October and features two air-conditioned squash courts with a movable side wall for international doubles, showers, dressing rooms and an office. There is also a provision for a jumbo doubles squash court on the second floor of the new bowling center, also under construction.

At the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Singapore last year, the Philippines brought home three bronze medals from the men’s team, men’s jumbo doubles and women’s singles. It was the first-ever women’s medal for the Philippines in the SEA Games. Bachmann said when the Philippines hosts the 2019 SEA Games, the games will be held at the Rizal hub with the national players ready to go for gold.

Bachmann said there are clear signs of a squash resurgence since Fausto Preysler Jr. won the East Asian men’s singles title in 1977. Early this month, the 12th seeded Philippine squad improved on its 14th place finish two years ago to wind up 10th at the 18th Asian Team Squash Championships in Taipei. And last weekend, the country’s No. 1 player Robert Garcia bagged the P25,000 first prize by upending world No. 147 and Malaysia’s No. 6 player Valentino Bong, 11-5, 12-10, 12-10 to capture the men’s single crown of the first PSA Open at the Makati Sports Club.

In Taipei, the Philippines was represented by Garcia, 29, David Pelino, 22, MacMac Begornia, 23 and Rafa Yam, 17. The Filipinos beat Macau, 3-0, and Sri Lanka, 2-1, and lost to Japan, India and Qatar to take 10th spot. Against highly touted India, Garcia snatched a set from world No. 66 Harinder Pal Singh in losing, 11-4, 11-5, 8-11, 11-7 and Yam also took Velavan Senthilkumar to four sets, 8-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-1 before he was hampered by a hamstring injury. The 2-1 loss to Qatar was close as Begornia beat Hamad Mohammed Al Amri, 11-5, 11-6, 7-11, 11-3 and Garcia extended Abdula Al Tamimi to four sets in dropping an 11-0, 11-9, 9-11, 11-3 decision. The Philippines not only exceeded its seeding by two rungs but also improved its finish by four.

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At the first PSA Open, 85 players participated in 132 total matches in the elite, Division I, Division II, Division III, juniors and women’s classes. A pool of seven referees worked the three-day event that brought in players from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, France and the UK. Among the participants were South African Ambassador Martin Slabber, UK Embassy director of trade and investment Michael Moon and Olympic Council of Malaysia chief coordinator Aanont Wathanasin.

The first PSA Open winners were Garcia in elite, Bakti Thoy Ibahri of Indonesia in Division I, Makati Sports Club pro P. J. Austria in Division II, Fathan Adzzkri of Indonesia in Division III and juniors and Myca Aribado in women. Consolation winners were Wathanasin in Division I plate, Romy Dona in Division II plate, Alicia Han May Jun of Singapore in Division III plate and Sandro Gotuaco in juniors plate.

Bachmann said Garcia’s win over Bong wasn’t a total surprise. “Valentino was once ranked world No. 120 and he’s only 28,” he said. “But Robert played exceptionally well in sweeping the three sets. We’re reaping the benefits of the support from the POC and PSC. Our elite players practice three to four hours a day, five to six days a week. Each practice is supervised and we track the progress of every player in the national pool. Everyone is motivated to work hard. Robert, David and Myca used to get a monthly allowance of P3,000 but now they’re up to P28,000. MacMac is receiving P15,000. Our coaches previously received P18,000 to P20,000 a month, now they’re earning P23,000 to P35,000.”

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