Au to live her outdoor dream
Annie Au Wing-chi will fulfil a lifelong dream this evening when she steps into the outdoor glass court at the Cultural Centre piazza in Tsim Sha Tsui to take on world No1 Nicol David in the semi-finals of the Hong Kong Squash Open.
Having become the first local player to reach the quarter-finals of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial event, Au went one better yesterday after a superb five-game win over third seed Rachael Grinham, the former world No1 and world champion.
'It's the best win of my career, it's the first time I've got into the semis of a Gold 60 event, so I'm so happy,' said Au, who recovered from 2-1 down to dominate the last two games and beat the veteran Australian 8-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-6, 11-4 in front a packed crowd at the Squash Centre.
It briefly looked like Joey Chan Ho-ling would join her in the last four as she bravely fought back from two games down against Raneem El Weleily, but the Egyptian world N8 edged the fifth to win 11-7, 11-3, 7-11, 9-11, 11-8.
'I'm really looking forward to playing in the glass court,' said world No7 Au. 'I've been wishing to play there for years, watching it in Tsim Sha Tsui and Hollywood Plaza. I'm from Hong Kong and to play in front of the Hong Kong people is a great honour.
'I used to go when I was younger to Hollywood Plaza to watch and it was always a dream. I like playing in glass courts anyway, and it's so special to have it there near the harbour. Now we've got to make some plans, my family didn't expect I would get to the semi-final, so they haven't bought any tickets.'
The only cloud on the horizon is that if it rains, matches will be moved to the Squash Centre. Organisers will decide in the afternoon.
Au was on the brink of going out after two tight games were followed by a desperately disappointing third. 'Strangely, when I was 2-1 down I felt very relaxed,' the 23-year-old said.
Grinham, world No5 and one of the most successful and experienced players on tour, sees no reason why Au can't continue the momentum against David.
'If she has a good day she's definitely in with a shot. She's probably still riding high on the excitement of it and the crowd can be a good push for her again.'
David, the best female player of all time, dropped her first game of the tournament in beating England's Laura Massaro in four. '[Au] is a shot-player and also being here you have to be ready for anything in front of her home crowd,' said the five-time Hong Kong winner.
Chan looked set for a quick exit, but came back brilliantly, lifted by a superb atmosphere on centre court. Having won in Macau last Sunday and now reached the quarters, this has been 'an amazing week, the best of my career'.
'I'm happy with my performance today,' she added. 'At the beginning I was totally controlled by her, but after the first two I tried to slow down the pace and get her behind me and I'm happy I came back.
'It's very exciting to see Annie go through, she's played brilliantly and I'll be there in front of Victoria Harbour to support her. She's got a chance even though it's Nicol because we'll all be there for her.'
El Weleily plays David's training partner Low Wee Wern in the other semi-final.
Chan joining Au might have been a dream too far, but Hong Kong head coach Tony Choi was nevertheless delighted. 'We've been waiting for this moment for so many years,' he said, thanking the government for their investment and urging them to continue their commitment. 'This has been our target, to get someone to play in the glass court in Hong Kong in front of Hong Kong people, it's been a dream for years.'
In the men's draw, world champion Nick Matthew's disappointing run in Hong Kong continued when he was knocked out in four games by Gregory Gaultier in a rematch of the recent World Open final.