Au scores milestone victory
Annie Au Wing-chi made history yesterday by becoming the first local player to reach the quarter-finals of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open.
Au beat New Zealand world No 11 Joelle King 12-10, 2-11, 11-9, 11-6 at the Squash Centre to reach the next round where she will face Rachael Grinham, the veteran Australian world No 5, for a chance to play in the outdoor show court at the Cultural Centre piazza in Tsim Sha Tsui. In a tough-fought, occasionally bad-tempered match, Au had just enough to see off the challenge of the tall, powerful King in 58 minutes, recovering from an error-strewn second game in which she gifted her opponent point after point.
It caps a superb year for the 22-year-old, who broke into the world's top 10 for the first time in May and is currently ranked No 7.
'I feel very happy,' she said, smiling. 'I think today I played OK, but I put a bit too much pressure on myself. All my shots were hitting the tin and I made too many mistakes and let her come back into it after the first game. I just told myself to be relaxed, 'You've still got the chance to beat her just don't give up', and then I came back.
'I felt quite a lot of pressure because this was my best ever chance to make the quarter-finals. Everybody had that expectation I could be the first one to do it, so I felt it. But I have to thank the crowd who gave me so much support.
'The crowd was really important, they gave me so much encouragement, especially in the third game when I was 5-2 behind and they kept pushing and pushing me.'
Grinham edged a topsy-turvy five-game match against 12th seed Jaclyn Hawkes of New Zealand.
For the quarter-final, the head-to-head record is 3-1 in the Australian's favour, but in their two meetings this year Au has won one and lost one, both 3-1. 'I think I've got quite a good draw, I've got a good chance,' Au said. 'Getting to the quarters already is brilliant and I'll just relax and play my best - I really want to make it to the outdoor court at the Cultural Centre.'
Au did just enough to win the first game with neither player finding a rhythm, then worryingly seemed to fall to pieces in the second, giving up seven unanswered points with a series of unforced errors.
'In the third game I just told myself to slow down a bit, be patient, play more rallies first then go for my shots,' Au said. She pulled the third back with three late winners just as it too looked like it was slipping away, King ending a long rally with a backhand into the tin to give Au game ball before a beautiful sliced forehand into the corner sealed it.
The fourth game saw both players warned for interfering with their opponent, with Au bundled to the ground a couple of times. She moved to 9-6 after a stroke was called against King, prompting a howl of anger, before closing out the win.
Grinham is wary of an opponent she describes as one of the most improved on tour this year and admits Au's style might not suit her.
'She's one of the toughest players to play really,' said the 34-year-old.
'The crowd could get her going but you can also feel a lot of pressure with the crowd expecting you to perform - but that's not my problem; it won't affect me at all.'
Elsewhere, world No 2 Jenny Duncalf made a shock 11-7, 11-7, 11-1 exit to Malaysian 13th seed Low Wee Wern to open the bottom half of the draw. 'I've had food poisoning so I wasn't feeling too crash-hot,' said a disconsolate Duncalf. 'She's a good player and if you're not 100 per cent you're going to struggle.'
In the men's draw, world No 1 Nick Matthew cruised into the quarters in three games against fellow Englishman Daryl Selby and now faces Gregory Gaultier in a rematch of this month's World Open final. Four-time Hong Kong winner Amr Shabana is also looking good, easing past compatriot Hisham Ashour to take his place in the last eight.