Safe and sound: Annie Au clears first hurdle at Hong Kong Open
Hong Kong Asian Games hopeful beats Egyptian rival in opening round
Annie Au Wing-chi doused Egyptian firebrand Heba El Torky in the first round of the US$220,000 Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open yesterday and heaved a huge sigh of relief after emerging injury-free.
With the Asian Games in three weeks, the emphasis for Au is more on winning a medal and securing the sport's future at the Hong Kong Sports Institute than on personal gain - winning prize money (US$70,000 is on offer for the women) or world ranking points.
"I was worried coming up against Heba. I met her in the first round of the World Open in Penang in March and lost. It was quite a physical match as she is a very aggressive player. I was thinking 'what if I got injured with the Asian Games coming up'," said Au.
"I was quite focused and the aim was to finish her off as quickly as possible without getting into a long tussle."
Luckily for Hong Kong's top-ranked player, El Torky was off her game and although she bristled with determination, Au breezed to a 11-6, 11-4, 11-4 win in 26 minutes.
Last year, Au reached the semi-finals, matching her performance in 2011 when she saw her world ranking reach a high of six. She has now slipped to ninth but Au says she is on top of her game.
"I haven't set any targets this week, but most definitely I want to win a medal at the Asian Games next month. That is very important for me. I won a silver medal in the individual event four years ago in Guangzhou, but while I will be looking at going one step better I know it is going to be much harder," Au said.
The competition has increased. Last time it was only perennial favourite Nicol David, the world number one who won her opening-round match at the Hong Kong Squash Centre on Tuesday night in her bid to win a 10th straight Hong Kong title.
But a few other Asian faces are now among the world's top 10 - Malaysian Low Wee Wern and India's Dipika Pallikal. Low, ranked seventh in the world, knocked out Hong Kong wildcard Wing Tong-tsz in the opening round yesterday. Indian poster-girl Pallikal (No 10) has given the tournament a miss as she gears up for Incheon. "It will be tough with all this competition around at the Asian Games. My first goal is to make sure I'm in contention for a medal, then see what colour I can get," Au said.
Her recent performances give her heart. Last week she reached the quarter-finals at the Malaysian Open, which she said matched her expectations.
What about this week? "I have set no targets other than to stay injury-free. It is a cliché but I will take it one match at a time and see how far I can go," said Au, who will meet Australia's Rachael Grinham in the next round.
In the men's competition, Spain's fourth seed Borja Golan reached the second round after Dutch opponent Laurens Anjema withdrew injured.
The men's competition had seen the form book turned upside down with five qualifiers - Egyptians Fares Dessouki, Zahed Mohamed and Tarek Momen, South Africa's Shaun le Roux and Alfredo Avila of Mexico - knocking out more fancied opponents to reach the second round.