The last time Singapore hosted the SEA Games in 1993, the country's squash players swept all four gold medals on offer.
While next year marks the return of the biennial Games here, a similar feat is unlikely given the dominance of regional rivals Malaysia but Singapore Squash Rackets Association president Woffles Wu is taking a longer-term view as he plots the Republic's revival.
The trio of Chua Man Chin and Brandon Tan, both 17, and Kojiro Tan, 16 are among a batch of promising youngsters from the Under-19 set-up tipped to shine at the 2017 edition in Kuala Lumpur.
Said Brandon: "There's a lot of history to live up to with the likes of (multiple SEA Games champions) Zainal Abidin and Peter Hill and, hopefully, we can follow in their footsteps."
A strong run by the Republic Polytechnic student and his teammates in this week's Old Chang Kee Singapore Open, which begins today and runs till Sunday, will provide a glimpse of the brighter future that the association is aiming for.
Said Kojiro, who captained Fairfield Methodist School Secondary to back-to-back B Division squash titles earlier this year: "I'm targeting a place in the semi-finals and hopefully use that momentum and do well in the SEA Games trials later this month and qualify for next year's squad."
Up to four spots - with two reserves - could be on offer though Man Chin accepts that any playing time for the June 5-16 Games will be limited, with senior players like Vivian Rhamanan and Chua Man Tong still among the country's leading lights.
"It'll be great exposure for us as it would be our first SEA Games and the experience would definitely help us for the next one in Malaysia," said the Hwa Chong Institution student.
Also forming part of this emerging group are the 18-year-old pair of Pang Ka Hoe and Benedict Chan, both currently involved in the prestigious US Junior Open Squash Championships in Yale University.
Men's national coach Ibrahim Gul, 32, who joined at the start of the year following stints with the Pakistan and Azerbaijan national teams, is encouraged at the talent pool available.
Said the former top 100-ranked player: "There is a lot of potential here but the boys need to compete in more international tournaments to reach the next level."
Major events - like the Singapore Open which features around 350 players from 11 teams, including Malaysia, Australia and Hong Kong, in 11 categories - are vital in local player development, noted Wu.
He was also responsible for the $200,000 title sponsorship over five years by food company Old Chang Kee.
The competition had struggled in recent years to attract big names but received a boost with the presence of Malaysia's former world No. 7 and double Asian Games gold medallist Ong Beng Hee this year.
Wu has also beefed up the backroom since he was elected last year.
Besides Gul, former Asian Games bronze medallist Della Lee was also hired in June to oversee the women's team, while ex-Malaysian pro Choong Kam Hing, once ranked just outside the world's top 100, will join the coaching staff next month.
Said technical director Sandra Wu: "The ratio of coaches to players was 1:20 when I joined in 2007 but next year it will be around 1:8.
"That's fantastic as we can now give the players more individualised training which will benefit them greatly."
This article was first published on Dec 17, 2014.
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