Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open 2016

Strength in numbers: Local squash players stand their ground against world elite as Hong Kong Open hots up

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 August, 2016, 9:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 11:28am

It’s a red-letter day for the sport in Hong Kong but no matter what results come out of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open’s round of 16, the city’s top-ranked players are already looking to a bright future ahead.

For the first time in the tournament’s history, there are two local men fighting for a place in the quarter-finals, while two local women are also in action at the Hong Kong Squash Centre as the business end of the tournament begins.

“This year is very impressive,” said Hong Kong’s leading man, Max Lee Ho-yin, who’s set to take on Egypt’s Ali Farag at 7pm.

“It is a great sign for Hong Kong squash. All the boys are improving – and the women – and me as well.”

The 18th ranked Lee is joined by 22-year-old upstart Yip Tsz- fung, ranked 50th in the world but responsible for one of the Open’s biggest upsets so far. Yip came in on a wild card and he sent world number five Miguel Angel Rodriguez packing in the first round.

Yip will now face Australia’s Ryan Cuskelly at 4pm.

It’s virgin territory for both players and Lee said the efforts so far show the strength in depth in the game in Hong Kong at the moment.

“Yip was so impressive,” said Lee. “I am a bit jealous because he is very good but I am also very happy. I have tried for many years to get out of the first round. I have just lost so many times on the centre court and now I have finally won.

“To have a big crowd here cheering for you is a great feeling and all the players really love that support. Thursday is another day so you never know what can happen but it shows that the game here is moving in the right direction. We are all getting better.”

With nine of the world’s top-10 players in town, and all of the women’s top 10, the draw was always going to have the look of a minefield about it, with danger at every turn.

No one knows that more than Annie Au Wing-chi.

The 27-year-old world number 10’s reward for winning her first round is a clash Thursday with the 20-year-old sensation – and world number one – Nour El Sherbini of Egypt at 1pm.

When asked how she felt about being drawn against history’s youngest ever world champion, Au dropped her shoulders and added a rueful sigh – but soon turned her attention to the positives.

“There is nothing I can do about it,” said Au. “There is nothing much I can do about it now, all I can influence is what happens on the court so I will prepare as well as I can.

“I lost in the first round last year so I am just happy to make it out of there this year. I think I got stronger the longer we played so I left the court feeling really good.

“What made me happy in my first round was that I played {Hong Kong’s] Liu Tsz-ling and she has just been improving and improving. You can see how much talent she has and that she has a great future ahead of her,” said Au.

Rounding out the Hong Kong posse today will be Ho Tze-lok, who followed up fellow wild-card entrant Yip’s heroics with an upset first-round victory on Wednesday over former world number two Jenny Duncalf.

The 20-year-old world number 75 battled back from two games down to win a gruelling five- gamer against the English world number 15 – and for her troubles will now meet last year’s British Open winner, Frenchwoman Camille Serme, at 7pm.

“We also have Joey [Chan Ho-ling] and we have Ho and they are both very good,” said Au.

“At the end of the year we have the World Women’s Team Championship in France [in November-December] so hopefully we can keep pushing each other, keep improving and we will become a very strong team.”