Into the unknown: squash ace Max Lee determined to push Hong Kong Open odyssey to the limit
Hong Kong’s Max Lee Ho-yin would have woken on Friday with eyes wide, having seen the world’s top two ranked players dumped out of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open and no doubt still feeling the buzz after becoming the first ever local player to go this deep in the tournament.
He now faces Egypt’s Fares Dessouki, the man who dumped world number two (and reigning world champion) Gregory Gaultier out on Thursday, with their clash set for 8pm as action moves to the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre.
“I’ve played here 13 years and watched it since I was a little child. To now play quarters is great but it’s only the quarters – it would be even better if I could win [on Friday],” said Lee.
The plan overnight, he said, was to eat well, rest well and keep a lid on both excitement and expectations.
With world number one Mohamed Elshorbagy also gone, anything seems possible on this side of the draw – and former world number one Ramy Ashour of Egypt has emerged as one to watch as he’s snuck in unseeded and continues to look dangerous.
While injuries have robbed the 28-year-old of playing time over the past few years, a full pre-season has him feeling good about his game again, and he was part of another thrilling Thursday encounter as he bustled his way past compatriot Marwan ElShorbagy in a marathon 9-11, 13-15, 11-8, 11-8, 11-8.
Ashour has form here, too, winning the event back in 2010 and 2012, before injuries hampered his career.
“I haven’t played tournaments since March and everything takes a toll on you,” he said. “No matter how hard you train it’s never as hard as playing, so I just have to do more of that. It’s a really tough sport.”
While Thursday threw up any number of surprises, the worry on Friday for world number one Nour El Sherbini is that she thinks she knows exactly what to expect.
The Egyptian 20-year-old will be looking across court at a most familiar face when her quarter-final starts around 1pm: compatriot and close friend Omneya Abdel Kawy .
“It’s not a good thing for us to play each other,” said El Sherbini. “She’s my teammate, my roomy, my big sister and everything. I really wish we never had to play each other, but that is how the draw has come out and we can’t escape it.
“I will go out and try to beat her – and she will be trying to beat me, of course. But I won’t feel very good whatever happens.”
El Sherbini’s tournament so far has been a work in progress. She was pushed all the way by Hong Kong’s Annie Au Wing-chi in Thursday’s round of 16 but found her range in the fourth set and later said she felt she was warming to the task this week, as, with Hong Kong hosting the first first PSA World Series event of the 2016-17 season, every player has been dusting off the cobwebs as they return to full match fitness.
The 31-year-old Kawy – ranked seventh in the world - will no doubt provide a stern test for El Sherbini, looking sharp as he brushed aside’s India’s number one Joshna Chinappa on Thursday. The youngster said she was reluctant – but ready.
“I’ve been improving every match and it feels good to be back and out there on the court after the summer break,” said El Sherbini. “I’ve had two tough games so far, so I think that will help me.”
The other side of the women’s draw looks tantalising with 10-time Hong Kong champ Nicol David set to face French world number six Camille Serme (6pm) before a possible semi-final clash with world number two Laura Massaro of England.