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Update: Engerer, Sultanas progress into squash semis

Kijan Sultana will face Daniel Zammit Lewis in the men's singles semi-finals

Maltese squash players made their first serves of the Games of the 2023 Small States of Europe (GSSE) on Monday at the Marsa Sports Club, and they could not have had a better start with three wins in the early sessions of the day. 

Niall Engerer and Kijan Sultana confirmed their presence in the semifinals in the men’s game, while Sultana sisters Colette and Lijana made the women’s semifinals after two wins each, ahead of the final set of games in the singles competition on Tuesday. 

Initially, three victories from Engerer, Daniel Zammit Lewis, and Sultana meant Malta took all of their men’s games of the first round. 

Starting things off was Engerer who faced Cypriot Andreas Koufetas at 10.30am in the first game of the day. With 11-3 and 11-2 scores, the Malta athlete managed a 2-0 victory to kick things off in the best way.

Following him were Zammit Lewis and Sultana, playing simultaneously half an hour later. Zammit Lewis, facing another Cypriot Yiannis Eftychiou, won the game with straight sets as well, achieving 11-6, 11-4 sets for another 2-0 win.

Finally, Sultana, the youngest of the male pack at 19 years old, barely struggled at the challenge of Iceland’s Gustaf Bjornsson as he cruised 11-3, 11-0 for the third 2-0 win for Malta. 

Kijan Sultana and Zammit Lewis were pitted against each other in the quarter-final round. Engerer in turn, faced Luxembourg’s Amir Samimi next. 

In the quarters, Engerer had a physical fight on his hands against a fiery Samimi. A shaky start had Engerer facing pressure and eventually a lost first set. However, in the second set, he sharpened up to tie the encounter. The third set was as tense as ever but Engerer’s momentum helped the Maltese athlete to take the game and prepare for a semifinal clash against Lichtenstein’s David Maier.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Engerer said it was a case of experience which got him through to this stage of the competition.

“I’m pleased of course, I had to use all my experience to get through (the game against Amimi). He’s a young prospect – a very good player,” he said. 

“I think in the future, that battle is definitely going to help him. Today, fortunately, I managed to get inside his head and once I was in there I just wasn’t going to leave. I played the big points better and he left me alone round the middle and I’m pretty dangerous around there. Once I had the opportunity, I took it. “

Asked about the next round, Engerer remains hopeful after securing the chance for a medal.

“The Lichtenstein guys who made the semis were one and two seeds as well as me and Kijan,” he explained. 

“I’m very pleased that we’re going to have at least one medal. We’ve definitely got Bronze in the bag which is great but me and Kijan both want to go for Gold. Any four of us can win that on the day and it depends on how we prepare and how the match plays out.” 

In an all-Maltese quarterfinal, the calibre of both players came out in the open from the starting serve. The pair played neck and neck with Kijan Sultana taking the first set after a late fightback. The second set was no different as the two pushed the game into no less than four tie breaks before the 19-year-old sealed the deal to head to the next round and face Luca Wilhemi, also of Lichtenstein. 

Swift sultana success

In the women’s competition, Lijana Sultana produced a fine display to dispose of Luxembourg’s Michele Meyer 11-2, 11-1 in her opening fixture in what appeared to be the quickest thrashing of the day. 

In a comment to the Times of Malta, Lijana Sultana said she was happy with her performance and was looking forward to Day Two on the court, a day which could see her facing her sister in the final.

“It feels really good to have made my debut today and that I get to play with my brother and sister on home soil so it’s probably one of the best experiences so far,” she said.

“I think I played really well. I was a bit nervous, a bit excited, but I think I handled it well and it was obviously very helpful to have the support of Malta. 

“In the semifinals, I want to try my best and whatever happens, happens. Hopefully, I bring back a medal for Malta.” 

Similarly, Colette Sultana cruised past fellow Luxembourg player Francois Donven with a nearly identical 11-1, 11-2 scoreline as they both progressed to the semifinals and a guaranteed medal in these Games. Colette Sultana now faces Cypriot Vasa Karasava Hambides.

The only disappointment came in the women’s first game when Luxembourg took their first win as Sandra Denis took a 9-11, 8-11, 8-11 win over Malta’s Johanna Rizzo. Despite the defeat, this was a tight contest with Rizzo taking the first set after a sharp start. However, after a back-and-forth issue, Denis emerged as the victor to deny Malta from remaining unbeaten on Day One. She now plays the youngest of the pack Lijana Sultana in the semifinal.

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