Hong Kong men stun hosts France to secure first ever squash World Team Championship semi-final appearance
Fifth seeds ‘create history’ by coming from behind to set up clash with tournament favourites Egypt
Hong Kong’s men’s squash team reached the World Team Championship semi-finals for the first time after stunning hosts France early on Saturday morning (Hong Kong time) before setting up another fierce battle against top seeds Egypt for a place in the final.
In front of a partisan crowd at Salle Vallier in Marseille, the trio of Max Lee Ho-yin, Yip Tsz-fung and Leo Au Chun-ming created the biggest upset of the tournament, coming from behind to beat the home favourites 2-1.
The third seeds, headed by world number one Gregory Gaultier, were expected to secure a place in the semi-finals while fifth seeds Hong Kong, led by their new head coach Chris Robertson, were bidding to achieve their highest ever position since finishing eighth in 2003.
Robertson, who took over the Hong Kong team in August, said: “It all started when Lee was 2-0 down in the first match, during which time he had been outplayed by Gaultier.
“He then showed a lot of character to take the third game to a tie-break – and, even though he lost, this gave confidence to the rest of the team. When Yip was 2-1 down in his match, I said to him that he needed to stay calm and trust his skills – and he kept up the pressure in the fourth and fifth and won.”
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Gaultier was in his usual defiant form as he put the home side ahead with his fourth successive straight game win in the championship by beating Hong Kong number one Lee.
After celebrating the early lead, the crowd was silenced when Hong Kong drew level after third string Yip fought back from 2-1 down to beat France’s world number 27 Mathieu Castagnet 11-7, 7-11, 9-11, 11-2, 11-4 in 67 minutes.
It all came down to the decider when Au, who showed tremendous form in the opening round of the Hong Kong Open last month by beating former world number one Ramy Ashour of Egypt, took on Gregoire Marche.
After 57 minutes of tense action on the all-glass showcourt it was Au who emerged victorious, winning 11-6, 7-11, 11-8, 11-2 to end the French dream and earn Hong Kong their best ever finish.
“It is a very special achievement for Hong Kong,”said Au. “We put a lot of effort into our preparations for this and really wanted to do well here. The crowd was really behind France, but I had my teammates in my corner and that helped me a lot.”
“We are really delighted with this success, but we want to build on this, going forward,” Robertson said, adding that his team had “created history already” so can relax going when they face Egypt.
Tournament favourites Egypt, who boast a squad with three players in the world top five, cruised into the semis courtesy of a 3-0 over tenth seeds Scotland.
England will play Australia in the other semi-final.