Home favourite Annie Au W ing-chi moved a step closer to her best achievement yet at the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open after scoring her second straight win in the US$220,000 tournament.
The world No 16 showed glimpses of the scintillating form that swept her into the top 10 last year, with a quick fire 11-3, 11-4, 11-6 victory over qualifier Emma Beddoes of England in a mere 26 minutes of their second-round encounter at Hong Kong Squash Centre on Thursday.
Au made it to the semi-finals in 2011, but faces the daunting task of reaching the last four again as she will take on favourite Laura Massaro, the second seed from England, in the next round.
"She had probably one of her best recent performances today," head coach Tony Choi Yuk-kwan said. "She was in total control as she dictated the pace from start to finish.
"Unlike previous games where she struggled against lower-ranked opponents, today Au played without pressure and displayed her true abilities with accurate shots."
Having seen her world ranking drop from a career-high sixth in May last year to 16 now, Au admitted consulting a sports psychologist last month and it seems to be working.
"I have been troubled by my below-par efforts for the past few months, which was not how I have been performing during training," said Au, the sole Hong Kong survivor in the tournament.
"Although I have made only a few visits to the psychologist so far, it seems to be working well."
Against high-flying Massaro, Au will have nothing to lose, but her main aim is to play well in front of the home crowd.
The England player, who has twice beaten world No 1 Nicol David of Malaysia this year, including a sensational win in the British Open final, said Au would not be easy to handle.
"She is playing well ... we saw that today," said Massaro, who had an easy victory of her own over Rachael Grinham of Australia, 11-8, 11-7, 11-5. "We have had many close games and Au beat me in Kuala Lumpur a couple of years ago. I expect a tough match."
Massaro was eliminated in round one last year when she surprisingly lost to Omneya Abdel Kawy of Egypt in three games.