Hong Kong under-19 champion Lee Ka-yi showed she was the one to watch as she held her own against world number two Jenny Duncalf in the biggest game of her fledgling career yesterday.
The teenager was far from overawed in the first round of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open, and delighted a packed centre court crowd with a brave display in a four-game defeat to the experienced Englishwoman.
Lee, who turns 18 a week from tomorrow, recovered from losing the first game 11-4 against the 29-year-old, going down narrowly 11-9 in the second, and fired in winners at the end of the third to pull a game back 11-8.
Though Duncalf stepped up a level in the fourth to win 11-9, Lee can be proud of an impressive debut on the big stage.
'It was a good experience,' said the teenager, who admitted to being tense under her calm exterior. 'I've never even played with top-12 players before. I think in the first set I was nervous, but I played better in the others. I tried my best, but in terms of fitness and skills I have a lot of room to improve. I'm really pleased to take a game off the world number two, she's definitely the best player I've played against.
'She controlled the game so well and had better game management. Obviously she wasn't nervous like me and even though I took a game off her she could still play it safe.
'Hopefully I can do better over the next year and maybe get to the second round next time.'
Tong Tsz-wing, whom Lee beat in the under-19 final, also impressed on day one against the best female player of all time, Nicol David.
The future looks bright for Hong Kong women's squash.
Duncalf never felt in real danger of being upset, but was full of praise for Lee: 'She played well, she went for her shots. It wasn't really harder than I was expecting: I saw a bit of her in qualifying and she looked quite good. The rallies were all quite short so it wasn't physically too demanding, but she's a good player.
'She can go quite far. Hong Kong seems to have a good history of bringing the youngsters through, especially with Joey [Chan Ho-ling] and Annie [Au Wing-chi], and we've seen this week there's another batch coming through, so it's good for Hong Kong.' Au aims to become the first local player to reach the quarter-finals when she takes on New Zealand ninth seed Joelle King at the Squash Centre this afternoon.
Wild card Liu Tsz-ling went out in disappointing fashion however, never threatening and outclassed by French seventh seed Camille Serme 11-3, 11-3, 11-1.
In the men's draw, fans' favourite Thierry Lincou made a surprise early exit to Stewart Boswell, beaten 11-3, 11-9, 11-5. After a surprisingly one-sided first game, the former world number one raised his level and made every point a gruelling battle.
Both players had to dig deep into their book of strokes as seemingly every rally went 20, 30 or more shots; Australian Boswell just edged it and the fight left Lincou when he ended another dizzying sequence by dropping a shot at 8-5 in the third.
Boswell had not beaten Lincou since 2002 and before yesterday had won only three out of 14 against him. 'It's been a long time between drinks,' said the 31-year-old, who now faces England's Tom Richards.
'I was a bit fortunate tonight. I had to play as well as I could to beat him; to be fair, he was in the final in Macau [on Sunday] and it's probably a lot of squash he's had to back up from.'
Four-time Hong Kong champion Amr Shabana of Egypt began his bid to win back the title he relinquished last year to Ramy Ashour (absent injured) by beating Malaysian qualifier Mohd Nafiizwan Adnan in four games. He now faces compatriot Hisham Ashour.