Shabana aiming to lift his game
World number one Amr Shabana believes the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open will provide the platform for him to break out of a mini-slump.
The Egyptian is the defending champion in the HK$1.6 million event and will face compatriot Omar Mosaad, the world number 23, in the first round at Hong Kong Squash Centre today.
'If there is any chance of a change of fortunes for this season, it will come in Hong Kong,' said the 29-year-old left-hander from Cairo.
Despite dominating the world rankings - he celebrated his 32nd successive month as world number one this month - Shabana has had one of his slowest starts to a season.
Last month he lost his world title when he was beaten by compatriot Ramy Ashour 3-2 in the semi-final of the World Open in Manchester. In the subsequent Qatar Classic, a title he was also defending, Shabana suffered a 3-0 loss in the final to yet another Egyptian, Karim Darwish.
The last title he won was the Kuwait Open in April. 'I am still fresh, but just not sharp enough,' he said. 'I have many good memories of Hong Kong as I won here for the past three years and I hope I can regain my top form and win it again.'
Shabana said competition was fierce and these days there was no such thing as an easy game on the world circuit.
'It is not like the 1990s when Jansher Khan just walked out to the court and swept all the titles. It is always tough nowadays even if it is a first-round match.
'A lapse of concentration will cost you dearly,' added the top seed. 'But since I have beaten [Mosaad] before, I am quite confident.'
In the women's event, the seemingly unbeatable Nicol David is likely to extend her winning streak.
Successes in last month's World Open and the Qatar Classic mean the Malaysian world number one has notched up 48 matches without defeat and has 11 successive titles since November 2007.
The 25-year-old will entertain Jaclyn Hawkes of New Zealand in the opening round today before a possible clash with home favourite Rebecca Chiu Wing-yin.
Chiu takes on Line Hansen of Denmark, whom she has beaten before, in another first-round tie.
The two Asians clashed in the second round of last month's World Open, where the Malaysian prevailed 11-3, 11-8, 11-7.
Indeed, the chances of home success appear slim following tough draws for two other Hongkongers. Christina Mak Pui-hin meets seasoned ace Rachael Grinham of Australia in the opening round, while Annie Au Wing-chi has been drawn against England's Laura Lengthorn-Massaro, the ninth seed.
Joey Chan Ho-ling and Elise Ng Jia-yunn reached the main draw via the qualifying rounds.
Ruling the roost
Egyptian ace Amr Shabana has topped the world rankings for this many months: 32