Rafiq posts unlikely Singapore Open win
Malaysian overcomes poor start to storm to the title
At first, Rafiq Ismail did not even give victory a thought.
The Malaysian bowler was struggling for consistency during the early stages of the Singapore International Open at the Temasek Club.
He also had a poor record at the competition. Although he struck gold at the South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Singapore in 2015, his best finish at the Singapore Open in three previous attempts was third - in 2013.
But then Rafiq, 20, found his groove.
Not only did he get over the initial slump, he did it with such aplomb that he topped the qualifying rounds and held on to top-seed status all the way to the step-ladder finals.
He eventually defeated South Korean Ryu Ji Hoon 266-244 in the championship-winning match.
Said Rafiq, after his win over the 2012 World Youth Championships bronze medallist: "Having to compete in the fasting month made it tough as well, though it also gave me extra motivation.
"I kept throwing my shots and focusing on my own game."
Rafiq's turnaround in fortunes was remarkable.
"Having to compete in the fasting month made it tough as well, though it also gave me extra motivation."Malaysian bowler Rafiq Ismail
At press time on Friday, Rafiq was ranked just seventh in the overseas pool, and he told The New Paper then that he would be satisfied with a mere top-four finish.
But, by midnight of that day, he had already surged to the top of the combined local and overseas pool with a total of 1,443 pins, nine ahead of Japanese Shuichi Heki.
Bowlers were allowed multiple tries to better their scores during the qualifying stage from May 27 to last Friday, but had to bowl in a series of three games during fixed time slots.
Rafiq believes that his $20,000 victory yesterday will not escape the eyes of Malaysia's national selectors.
He said: "The (Malaysian) SEA Games squad hasn't been officially announced yet.
"But, after my performance here, I believe I'm in."
In the women's category, Cherie Tan gave the home crowd a reason to cheer in the final rounds of the tournament, as the only Singaporean bowler to qualify for the step-ladder finals.
But the disappointment of the 200-odd spectators was palpable when the 29-year-old finished her game with 183 pins, behind South Korea's Baek Seung Ja's 224 and Kang Sujin's 231.
Tan opened strongly with a strike, but failed to capitalise on her good start, knocking down only seven pins in her next frame.
She then bowled four consecutive strikes to make amends, but it was not enough to get her back into the game.
She said: "It was just one bad shot, but I paid a lot for it. It was my fault.
"I'm disappointed, of course, but overall, I think I didn't bowl that badly in this tournament."
Despite getting the lowest score among the three of them, Tan finished third because she was seeded second entering the semi-finals.
Bowlers who reach the step-ladder finals can move up or down only one position from their original ranking.
In the final, Kang met defending champion and compatriot Jung Da Wun.
Jung beat Kang 243-146 to clinch her third title from just her third time participating in the Singapore Open, having won it last year and also in 2012.
Said Jung: "I thought the finals were easier than the qualifying rounds this year.
"Playing against a fellow Korean was more comfortable than playing a Singaporean (would have been), because Singapore are strong rivals."