'Inspirational' Max Lee closing gap on world stars
Automatic entry into main draw at Hong Kong Open seen as a breakthrough for local star
Max Lee Ho-yin claimed a breakthrough by gaining direct entry to the main draw for next month's Hong Kong Open - now he aims for another by winning his first-round match.
Having reached a career-high 25th in the world rankings, Lee became the first local Chinese men's player to qualify automatically for the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial-sponsored tournament (August 24 to 31).
"I'm delighted my efforts have paid off," he said. "I can be more focused preparing for my first battle and have less pressure. A first-round appearance at this major competition will help me bag at least 190 ranking points," said Lee, who has qualified for the main draw four times, once as a wild card.
"In 2007 I entered the main draw [ through the qualifier] with a ranking outside 300 in the world. I saw that as a breakthrough and here comes another this year," Lee said.
David Mui Ying-yuen, chairman of Hong Kong Squash, described Lee's success as "a breakthrough for both Max and also men's squash in Hong Kong".
"Max's achievement means our home-grown players are competent enough to challenge the top professionals in the world," said Mui. "He will certainly inspire the up-and-coming junior players."
Lee said his victory over former world number one Karim Darwish at the Canary Wharf Classic in March was a turning point.
"I am closing the gap with the big boys and my mindset has changed.
"I used to think about the possibility of defeat, but I am now eager to find ways to beat the top players," said Lee, who will play world No 10 Daryl Selby of England in the first round.
"I look forward to creating an upset in front of my home crowd next month. No local men's player has made it to the second round and I hope I can be the first one."
Teammate Leo Au will play in the qualifier while the wild card has been given to young talent Yip Tsz-fung.
"Yip will play in the team event at the Asian Games. So a first-round appearance at the Hong Kong Open will raise his ranking and our chance to have a better seeding for the team event in Incheon," said Lee, who won gold medals in singles and the team event at the East Asian Games last year.
World number one Gregory Gaultier is the first seed in the men's event and Malaysian superstar Nicol David heads the women's field again.
Hong Kong aces Annie Au Wing-chi and Joey Chan Ho-ling will be joined by teammate Tong Tsz-wing, who is given a wild card, in the main draw.
The final stages of the tournament will be played at the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre and not on the specially built glass court at the Cultural Centre Piazza in Tsim Sha Tsui.