With Annie Au Wing-chi retiring last year, the big question on everyone’s lips is who will take over the mantle as Hong Kong’s top woman’s squash player? The Chairman Cup, which kicked off on Wednesday at Hong Kong Squash Centre, could provide clues as to who might become the city’s leading light. Ho Tze-lok, Lee Ka-yi, Liu Tsz-ling, Tong Tsz-wing and Vanessa Chu Man-yee are competing for the first time in more than a year after the sport felt the full brunt of the pandemic. The five players will be out to emulate Au’s feat of becoming Hong Kong’s most dominant player but these are early days for them. Now serving the community as a police inspector, Au shocked the squash community 12 months ago when she announced her retirement from the sport at a time when she was still world number 11. Her highest ranking attained was six achieved in 2012. Three months later, Joey Chan Ho-ling – also a world top-20 player – followed suit to focus on her studies. Both players were in their early 30s when they made their decision. A year after the pair quit the scene, Hong Kong will have to find a successor for Au and Chan, although one tournament alone will be insufficient to identify who that player might be. ‘Time to move on’ – Squash star Annie Au retires at 31 All the top five seeds of the tournament are indeed very closely matched, particularly in world ranking, starting from Ho, who is 44th, while Liu and Tong occupy 45th and 46th spots respectively. Lee ranks 53rd while Chu is just four places behind. All these players are within 13 places of each other in the rankings unlike in years gone by when Au and Chan were heads and shoulders above everyone else in Hong Kong. Among the players competing this week, Ho is the youngest at 25 and has the highest ranking, while 29-year-old Liu is the oldest, having played in the shadows of Au and Chan for years. However, Ho, the Chairman Cup top seed, said she and other players were ready to take up the baton in the post-Annie Au era. Leo Au and Joey Chan quit in latest blow to Hong Kong squash “Shortly before Chan announced her retirement, we were told internally that it had come to a time that either me or Liu will have to take the leading role in a team event,” said Ho, who along with Lee, joined Au and Chan to claim the 2018 Asian Games women’s team gold medal in Jakarta. “Mentally we are well prepared but of course competition will also be tough as we all have similar international exposure. “The Sports Institute has shut down three times over the past year and athletes had to go through training behind closed doors due to the pandemic. We have been working hard on improving our form especially on the physical side and this will be a good opportunity for us to prove our mantle on the playing courts.” In the men’s event, former top player Au Chun-ming also made the drastic step of following his elder sister, Annie Au, by quitting the sport last year. That’s opened the door for Yip Tsz-fung, the world number 39, the opportunity to become Hong Kong’s king of the court. Yip is considered a favourite in the men’s competition, as another top player, Max Lee Ho-yin, did not enter the event due to injuries.