Local squash ace Annie Au eyes top four finish at Hong Kong Open
After reaching HK Open semis last time, local star hoping home fans spur her once again
Annie Au Wing-chi will be hoping that history repeats itself this week as she targets a last-four spot - and then maybe a place in the final - in the women's singles at the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open.
The Hong Kong ace stunned the squash world last year when she stormed into the semi-finals with a shock victory over Australian Rachael Grinham. It was the start of a good run for Au that ultimately saw her move to sixth in the world rankings.
Au, 23, has since slipped down a few notches - she's now ranked ninth - but is hoping home-court advantage will help kick-start her bid to move up the rankings and perhaps win her first World Series event, of which Hong Kong with prize money of US$150,000 is one.
"I feel more comfortable playing at home. All the stress when travelling is gone and I love playing in front of the Hong Kong crowd," Au said. "But it is going to be harder this time as I will face a couple of tough matches to get into the semi-finals. And it is tougher now because I'm no longer the new face on the block".
Au will begin her campaign on Wednesday with a first-round match against a qualifier. Seeded fourth in the 32-strong draw, Au is likely to come up against Grinham in the second round and it will be a grudge match for the Aussie. If the home favourite can get past Grinham, and if her form holds, she will meet high-flying Malaysian Low Wee Wern in the quarter-finals.
"Last year I defeated Rachael 3-2 in the quarter-finals but this time I will be meeting her earlier - provided I win my first match - and then most likely come up against the Malaysian girl who recently won the China Open. It will be hard with the competition getting tougher every time," Au said.
The first Hong Kong player to enter the world's top 10, Au has set her sights on surpassing her career-high ranking of sixth, a position she held for six months before losing ground in the past couple of months.
"It is easier to get into the top 10 than staying there," said Au, who reached the quarter-finals at the British Open this year. "The competition is getting younger and hungrier which makes every match a tough one."
A good outing this week will raise Au's confidence as she looks to end a successful year with a good run at the World Open in the Cayman Islands next month.
Meanwhile, three Hong Kong women kept alive their hopes of entering the main draw by winning their first-round games in the qualifying draw yesterday. Ho Ka-po defeated Australian Sarah Cardwell 5-11, 11-1, 11-9, 11-9 to move into the second round. Ho will meet New Zealander Kylie Lindsay today to decide one of the eight qualifiers for the main draw.
Also moving on were Tong Tsz-wing, a straight-games winner over another Hong Kong player, Karmen Siu, and Carmen Lee, who defeated compatriot Jannis Lam, also in straight sets.