Annie Au pulls out of Asian Team Championships with injury
Knee problem forces the world No 9 to miss the regional event, with prospects for favourites Malaysia looking better
Hong Kong's hopes in the Buler Asian Team Championships were dealt a blow with the last-minute withdrawal of Annie Au Wing-chi as Malaysia, headed by world number one Nicol David, remain the team to beat.
World number nine Au, who was surprisingly beaten by teammate Joey Chan Ho-ling in straight games in the Hong Kong Championships final on Sunday, suffered an inflammation in her left knee.
This has forced her to withdraw from the tournament which starts at the Squash Centre in Admiralty on Wednesday.
"We have consulted our physiotherapist and it would be better for the player to stay away from competition at the moment," said Hong Kong head coach Tony Choi Yuk-kwan.
"It's not a serious case, perhaps due to some overuse during training. It's also a precaution as we don't want to aggravate her injury with the Asian Games coming up in September."
Choi said Au's absence would affect the hosts' chances as Malaysia and India have sent their best players to the biennial event.
"Au is our highest-ranking player," said Choi. "But without her, we will also face less pressure and maybe the girls can pull off some surprises," he said.
Chan, ranked 22nd in the world, will lead the home team, followed by Liu Tsz-ling and Tong Tsz-wing. Youngster Chu Man-yee, 19, will replace Au. Each tie is a best-of-three match format.
Hong Kong are with India in pool B, which also features China, Pakistan and Iran.
Malaysia, the top seeds, lead pool A ahead of South Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Hong Kong will play Pakistan and China today and India tomorrow.
"The match against India will be crucial if we want to finish top of the pool and avoid meeting the winners from pool A in the semi-finals," said Choi.
"Their top two players have a higher ranking than Chan, but we are not going to give up without a fight."
Hong Kong have won the women's team event three times - in 1986 and 2000 as hosts and 2010 in India.
In 2000, Hong Kong beat Malaysia 2-1 in the final before David went on to rule the world.
"I have learned a lot and become a better and stronger player since my defeat here in 2000," said David, who missed the past two Asian Team events.
"A team event is more than just one player but Malaysia have a strong team this time and I am pretty confident of some good results."
World number seven Low Wee Wern is their second player, followed by world number 39 Delia Arnold and Vanessa Raj.
In the men's, Hong Kong face their toughest test today against Kuwait.
The team are led by Max Lee Ho-yin, winner of the Hong Kong Championships, followed by Leo Au Chun-ming, Yip Tsz-fung and Tang Cheuk-yan.