David sets sights on sixth crown
World No 1 Nicol David has an ominous warning for anyone hoping to take her Hong Kong Open title this week: I'm playing the best squash of my life.
It's a remarkable statement given the Malaysian has been the top-ranked woman since January 2006, has won the Player of the Year award for six consecutive years and just lifted a record sixth World Open title nine days ago.
'It's always possible to get better,' the 28-year-old yesterday said. 'You gain so much experience and this year has been a real learning one for me, especially after last year where I won all my tournaments and Commonwealth gold. It was a big thing for me to come out of that and step up. It is a challenge, but I know I'm stepping up my game each time.'
David obliterated long-suffering world No 2 Jenny Duncalf in less than half an hour in the final in Rotterdam and, with the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open the last tournament of her year, she's in no mood to relinquish a title she has won every year since 2006.
'In the [World Open] final, I don't think I've ever played that well. It's the best performance I've had in my career. I reached another level. So now it's just bringing that feel and that high into this tournament,' added David, who last week became the first active player to be inducted into the World Squash Federation Hall of Fame. 'I always love coming to Hong Kong and I just want to bring that form into this tournament and give my all.'
Hong Kong have a record five women in the main draw after Tong Tsz-wing and Hong Kong under-19 champion Lee Ka-yi qualified yesterday, though the teenagers' rewards were daunting draws against David and Duncalf respectively.
Eighth seed Annie Au Wing-chi is confident of progressing against Gaby Huber of Switzerland in her first-round match at the Hong Kong Squash Centre this afternoon, while 15th seed Joey Chan Ho-ling, who won the Macau Open on Sunday, starts her campaign tomorrow night against Ireland's Aisling Blake. Wild card Liu Tsz-ling plays No 7 seed Camille Serme of France tomorrow.
In the men's draw, world No 1 Nick Matthew is aiming to take the title for a first time after retaining his World Open crown last weekend by beating Frenchman Gregory Gaultier in an epic final.
'My record here isn't amazing. I got to the final in 2004 and since then I don't think I've been past the quarters,' said the 31-year-old from Sheffield, the first Englishman to win the World Open title and the first player for 15 years to defend it.
'This year, hopefully I can at least get to the Cultural Centre [where the semis and final are played in an outdoor glass court] because I think it'll be pretty special.
'There wasn't as much time as I would have liked after the Worlds to come down and build back up again so I'm sort of building back up again as I'm here.
'The toughest thing will be getting the motivation back; after you've won something so big it's natural to be a bit flat.
'The first couple of days [after the final] were a little bit hectic. I nursed a sore head a couple of mornings. It was great that my family and friends and coach were out there to share it with me which made it extra special. There's been a few media duties and so on which squash players aren't always familiar with so that made a nice change, but now I've started to get my mind back on the future.
'That's all in the past and it doesn't really count for anything now. We all start from scratch and I want to give this tournament the respect it deserves.'
Matthew kicks off his bid tonight against New Zealand qualifier Martin Knight. Hong Kong's Max Lee Ho-yin is in action against Cameron Pilley of Australia, but there was disappointment in qualifying yesterday for Leo Au Chun-ming, who lost to Malaysia's Ivan Yuen in four games, and Dick Lau Siu-wai, beaten by Gregoire Marche of France.
The number of minutes Malaysian superstar Nicol David took to beat England's Jenny Duncalf at the World Open final