'It gives me goose bumps': For squash ace Nicol David, Hong Kong is a home away from home
But Malaysian great is pushed to the limit in opening her title defence at the Hong Kong Open; Max Lee’s win puts two local male players into the second round of the event for the first time
Nicol David has spent the past few days soaking up the history she has so far written at the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open – while setting out a plan of attack as she looks to add another chapter to it.
Ten straight victories here have helped add to the David legend, as the Malaysian has established herself among the greats of the game, and she admitted to feeling a special kind of buzz building inside as her flight made its approach into Chek Lap Kok.
“I won my first international event here as a 13-year-old and it has been special to me ever since,” said the eight-time world champion. “My first world title win here was in 2005 and just thinking about that still gives me goose bumps. I think Hong Kong is a very special place.
“There’s always a feeling I get when I come back here. It seems quite surreal, considering everything that has come before and all the memories I bring with me. When I think back on everything I have experienced here it really spurs me on to play my best squash.”
It’s a good thing it does as David was given an almighty scare as she opened her title defence on Wednesday night, the world number three finding herself pushed to the limit by Tesni Evans of Wales before prevailing 11-8, 8-11, 11-4, 5-11, 11-5.
David was relieved afterwards but said by this stage of her career she had come to expect the unexpected.
“When people play me they have nothing to lose,” said David. “They come in firing. She took her chances and they all came in. She played great but the first round is always a time to adjust to the conditions and I just knew that I had to stay in there, stay solid and stick to my game plan. That consistency paid off in the end.”
It was David’s first competitive match of the new season, and David revealed she had poured hour upon hour into preparation for her 16th on the world pro tour.
“I think this off-season I have trained harder than ever,” said David. “It’s been a great off season. I feel strong and like I have a good base as we start the season. I think I need that extra strength now to keep my consistency .
“I think I have become smarter with my training. We have sports scientists coming in, we really customise the training now in working out exactly how my body recovers. Each session we go 100 per cent and it is all quality. I just want to perform well and I am sure the results will come.”
Last year’s victory here over current world number two Laura Massaro of England stretched David’s unbeaten streak at the event to 50 matches and this year the draw has set her on course for a rematch with Massaro in the semi-finals.
The pair might be considered relative veterans on the circuit – David turns 33 on Friday while Massaro is 32 – considering the game has this year welcomed its youngest ever world champion in the 20-year-old Egyptian Nour El Sherbini.
El Sherbini had never before made the trip to Hong Kong, and her presence looms large over the other side of the draw to David, and over the tournament itself. El Sherbini got her own campaign under way on Tuesday night with a 11-8, 11-4, 11-8 win over compatriot Heba El Torky and came in to the event saying she quite fancied creating a little history here of her own.
David said – as has been the case throughout her career – she thrives on the challenge.
“You just keep looking forward to it,” she said. “The younger generation are there to keep pushing the barriers and to make you raise your game. That’s what you want – to be pushed and to make yourself keep on top of things.”
A little slice of history was forged later on day two when world number 18 Max Lee Ho-yin breezed past English qualifier Joe Lee 11-6, 11-4, 11-7.
After Yip Tsz-fung’s heroics on day one – when he conquered fifth-ranked Colombian Miguel Angel Rodriguez – the result has left the home team with two men’s players in the second round for the first time in the event’s 55-year history, and four players left in total thanks to first-round victories on the women’s side by Annie Au Wing-chi on day one, and wild card entry Ho Tze-lok on day two.
The 20-year-old Ho, the world number 75, dug deep and just kept finding more as she wore down 15th-ranked Englishwoman Jenny Duncalf 1-11, 4-11, 11-7, 18-16, 11-7.
“It’s great for the game here, and great for me as I have never gone this far before,” said an elated Lee. “We are all improving and hopefully this won’t mean extra pressure, just extra motivation for all the players. There are tough games ahead for us now but I hope we can just keep improving.”