Year-end surprises for junior squash star
For squash player Lee Ka-yi, the first 10 months of this year were a great time. The 18-year-old Hong Kong junior team member represented the city at two premier events - the World Junior Squash Team Championships in the United States and the Asian Junior Squash Team Championships in Sri Lanka, where she finished third.
However, she would have never expected there was still something more exciting waiting for her before the year ended.
Lee, who graduated from Form Seven at Ying Wa Girls' School this year, competed for the last time in the Inter-school Squash Competition in October, reaching the semi-finals, but losing to HK junior teammate and eventual winner, Ho Ka-po.
But then came the first of her 'magical moments'. She won the Hong Kong Junior Squash Closed Championships for the first time in November.
Then she qualified for the main draw of the Hong Kong Open, held from November 13-20 , by beating local player Elise Ng and England's Lauren Shelby. Her skills steered her to a contest against world number 2 Jenny Duncalf in the biggest annual international squash tournament in town.
'It was an incredible chance for me to play against this top player,' Lee says. 'I just relaxed and played quite well. I never dreamed I would win a set from her.'
But she did, and the scores reflected that victory was no walkover for the British player, who won 11-4, 11-9, 8-11, 11-9.
A month later, Lee again proved that luck had nothing to do with her success. She qualified for another international tournament in Hong Kong, the seventh Crocodile HK Squash Challenge Cup 2011 and made it to the quarter-finals. 'In the qualifying round, I faced professional player Karman Siu,' Lee says. 'I had a fever that day and my dad asked me to withdraw. But I wanted to play so much. I stayed and had a five-set thriller, beating Karman to enter the main draw.'
She then upset sixth seed Kylie Lindsay from New Zealand, but lost to top-seeded Australian Donna Urquhart in the quarter-finals. 'Through these matches with professional players, I learned more about myself on court,' Lee says. 'Obviously, there is a gap between our skills and experiences, but it was not as wide as I had expected.'
Now the number 2 in Hong Kong's under-19 team, Lee is having a rest this week to prepare for her university entrance exams. The teenager, who lives in Kennedy Town, says she has many wishes for 2012. 'I hope I can get through the A-level exam and get a place at university,' she says. 'I still have one more year to play in junior tournaments in 2012. I hope I will be able to win the title at the Milo All Star Junior Squash Championships in Malaysia next June and an individual event in the Asian Junior Squash Championships, the two tournaments I have not topped.'
Lee says she also needs to consider her future career. 'I need to think about my path after the exams, and I should tell my coaches before the summer ends.'