“Malaysian squash has come a long way in terms of popularity.”

In the world of squash, there are few rising stars as promising as Ira Azman. At just 19 years old, she has already made a huge mark in the sport.

With an impressive record of winning six Asian Junior Championships, being a World Cup finalist, and finishing runner-up at the World Junior Championships, Aila Azman’s journey in the world of squash has been nothing short of extraordinary. Her talent and determination have propelled her to the forefront of the sport, making her a rising star.

In this exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, she talks about her early years, her professional squash journey, the growth of the sport in Malaysia, her on-court strategies, and her dreams for the future.

Ira’s journey into the world of squash began at the age of five, inspired by her older sister. Intrigued by her sister’s daily training sessions, young Ira decides to join them. Day by day, she observed that her curiosity grew stronger each time she visited her squash court. She commented:

“I started playing squash when I was five years old because of my older sister.At her school, in Malaysia, there was a rule that each student played one sport, so my first older sister chose squash. Because it was an indoor sport. I followed suit. My second sister used to accompany her to her training sessions every day. So I started playing squash for fun. But then I got interested in squash and my family was very supportive of it too. It’s been a very long journey. I’ve been playing for almost 13 years – 14 years already.”

Her squash journey started as a hobby, but developed into a passion as she enjoyed the opportunity to travel to different countries and play against different opponents. She added:

“At first I saw it as just a hobby, but then it became fun. I loved traveling to different states and playing with different people. Then I decided to go pro. When I was 16 years old, “I was playing for the world ranking in PSA. At 16 years old, I was doing well so far.”

Ira’s journey has not been without its challenges, but her determination and talent have propelled her to greater heights. In 2023, Aira reached a decisive moment as she aimed to win the Asian Junior Championship and the World Junior Championship, which are the culmination of her junior career.

The 19-year-old’s exceptional performances in these tournaments propelled her onto the international stage, including her first World Cup and World Championship appearances. she said:

“For me, this was my last year as a junior. Tournaments like Asian Juniors and World Juniors were very important to me as they signify the end of my junior career. So I wanted to do my best. I won the championship, so I did my best.” He won his sixth Asian junior title and advanced to the world junior finals for the first and last time.

“I was very happy with my overall performance that year. I also had the opportunity to play in the World Cup in Chennai and my first World Championship, which was a great experience for me. I hope to play even better next year. I’m looking forward to what we can do.” ”

“The pressure would be on my opponent, so there was no pressure on me because I have a high ranking.” – Aira Azman on playing against higher-ranked players

Ira Azman in action (PC: Sportskeeda)
Ira Azman in action (PC: Sportskeeda)

Playing against experienced players came with its own challenges. When asked about her mindset when facing her formidable opponent, she displayed remarkable poise and confidence in herself.

She recognized the experience and pedigree of top-ranked players and understood that they had been exposed to the rigors of high-stakes tournaments. Paradoxically, this recognition of her opponent’s experience relieved pressure on her shoulders. Her expectations and surveillance were on them, not her. She told Sportskeeda:

“As for me, I know that if you play against top players, like top-20 players, they are more experienced and have a chance to play in bigger tournaments. I wasn’t nervous. There was no pressure on me because there would be pressure on them.”

In the intense atmosphere of the squash court, Ira’s strategic talent often attracted attention. Her reputation as a tactically aggressive player is well earned, and how she navigates these critical moments while switching between her offensive and defensive strategies in high-stakes situations. The question arose as to whether it was true. She said:

“I think it depends on the players I’m playing against. I’m a naturally short player, so I don’t want to participate in long rallies. That was an advantage.

“But as you move to higher levels of competition, especially against players like India’s Joshna Chinappa and in tournaments like the World Championships, you have to adapt to longer rallies and focus on scoring points. There was a need.”

Ira is only 19 years old and has already achieved impressive success in squash. When asked how she manages the mental and physical aspects of her training, she credits her full-time commitment to squash. She further said:

“I graduated from high school last year, became a full-time squash player, and entered university in October.During this period, I devoted all my energy to squash.

“I worked closely with my coach, sports psychologist, and gym trainer to improve every aspect of my game. The transition from juggling academics and sports to devoting a year solely to squash was not easy. I didn’t have that, but it was because of the guidance and support of my coach.”My family made it possible. ”

Squash in Malaysia has a rich history and occupies an important place in the country’s sporting culture. Ira emphasizes the importance of numerous tournaments, both national and junior, in developing talent and promoting the sport. She said:

“Squash in Malaysia is growing, with many tournaments being held including national championships and a number of junior events. The sport is gaining recognition and initiatives like the Nicole David Organization are helping to attract young talent. We are cultivating.”

Ira added:

“Squash in Malaysia has made great strides in terms of popularity, with schools introducing the sport to their students. This is beneficial for players like me and provides an opportunity to compete in international tournaments. I am.”

“One of the players I’m keeping an eye on is Amina Orfi from Egypt” – Ayla talks about the toughest competition she’s ever faced

Ira Azman in action (PC: Sportskeeda)Ira Azman in action (PC: Sportskeeda)
Ira Azman in action (PC: Sportskeeda)

As Ira progresses in his career, he faces stronger opponents at the professional level. While she is aware of the competitive nature of squash and the tough opponents she encounters, she cites up-and-coming Egyptian player Orfi as one player she is looking forward to competing against.

“As a professional player, I have had the opportunity to play against some of the top 20 players in the world, each with their own unique challenges, but one player I have my eye on is Amina from Egypt. She’s Orfi. She’s only 16 years old.” She’s three years younger than me and has shown outstanding performance. Her style has been compared to former Malaysian No. 1 Nicole David. I’m looking forward to it.

The interview also touched on Ayla’s friendly relationship with fellow Egyptian player Fairouz. Their on-court battles are intense, with each player winning different matches. However, off the court, Ayla and Farida share a friendly relationship and communicate well, highlighting the camaraderie that can exist between competitors in the world of squash. She further added:

“Fairoz and I share an interesting relationship. On the court, we are competitors and push each other’s limits. Off the court, we are good friends. We often We communicate and there is a strong understanding. Our games are intense, but the mutual respect and friendship gives depth to our competition.”

At just 19 years old, Ayla has already won numerous accolades and is undoubtedly a rising star in the sport. Stay tuned for part 2. There, Ira shares her aspirations and preparations for the prestigious Asian Games and promises further insight into her career and the exciting future that lies ahead.

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