Hy heading back to Hong Kong for landmark Open

FORMER Hong Kong number one Patricia Hy will fulfil a lifelong ambition in September when the territory makes its long-awaited return to the women's professional circuit.

Hy, who emigrated to Canada four years ago, will take part in the inaugural US$100,000 Digital Hong Kong Open from September 11-19 at Victoria Park.

The 28-year-old spent 17 years in Hong Kong where she developed into a world-class player, representing the territory at the 1987 Federation Cup.

Although she flew the Hong Kong colours at the highest level, she was never given the opportunity to take part in a locally-staged international tournament.

The last women's event in Hong Kong was in 1982 when Hy was not yet ready for international competition.

Hy, winner of the recent Canadian national championships, said: ''I'm thrilled to be returning to Hong Kong. When I was growing up in the territory there were only men's events.

''I was always being told that one day women's tennis would return to Hong Kong. I waited and waited but it never came.

''Now it has come and it will be great for the young girls in Hong Kong.

''I really hope that a lot of people come and support the tournament.'' Hy was a top-50 player when she represented Hong Kong. After moving to Canada, she disappeared from the scene for a while, but has recently made a huge impression on the women's circuit.

The Cambodian-born Hy is now ranked 38th in the world. At last year's US Open, she beat Olympic champion Jennifer Capriati and Helena Sukova before losing to the then world number one Monica Seles in the quarter-finals.

The Hong Kong event is part of the US$33 million Kraft Women's Tour, which was launched this year to raise the profile of women's tennis.

The Hong Kong tournament is a tier four event, the lowest of the eight categories, but organisers hope it is a stepping stone to greater things.

''Such events generate a tremendous amount of interest and in the past have acted as a launching pad for Asian players to establish themselves and improve their world rankings,'' said tournament director Kevin Livesey, who was Hy's former coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.

''Over the years, women's tennis has gained in popularity in the region and it would have been quite wrong for Hong Kong not to be included in the calendar.'' Yayuk Basuki, Indonesia's world number 40, has benefitted from tournaments in Asia and is also targeted for Hong Kong.

Entries close four weeks before the start of the tournament so the full 32-strong line-up has yet to be confirmed.

Livesey is expecting many top 100 players to enter.

Wild cards will be offered in the main draw and the qualifiers, some of which may go to Hong Kong players.