HONG KONG─The felling of tall poppies began in Round 1 of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open 2016 on Tuesday Aug 23 with local youngsters Yip Tsz-Fung and Ho Tze-Lok beating seeded Columbian Miguel Angel Rodriguez and former England No 1 Jenny Duncalf respectively.
By the time the quarter finals were played on Thursday, only one top ten seed remained in the Men’s draw, Karim Abdel Gawad – and on the Women’s side, all local interest was over with both Annie Au and Ho falling to seeded players (world No 1 Nour El Sherbini and 6th seed Camille Serme respectively) in Round 2.
Max Lee progressed beating England qualifier Joe Lee in Round 1 and then took out 2 Egyptian’s in a row (Ali Farag and Fares Dessouky) to become the first local man to reach the semi-finals. He then came up against another Egyptian, former world No 1 Ramy Ashour, who proved too good, ending Lee’s history-making run with an 11-8, 11-9, 11-6 victory.
Lee struggled, as Ashour, two times winner of the event and amongst the best touch players seen in recent times, showed the 28-year old Hong Kong player a few extra dimensions to the game.
But there were no regrets, Lee said, and those gathered at the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre gave him a fitting ovation after he had helped bring the tournament to life over the past few days.
Never before had a Hong Kong men’s player made the quarters, never mind the semi-finals, and in 12 previous attempts Lee had never been past the first round.
“It’s a tough tournament and Ramy was very impressive”, said Lee. “I tried my best, tried to get in front of him, but he was too good. But it was a great tournament for me. I am very happy, and happy to have helped squash in Hong Kong get some attention.”
Nicole David’s legions of fans saw the 33-year-old Malaysian star’s historic run of 10-straight titles – and a 52 match unbeaten streak – brought to an end by the 18-year-old Egyptian phenomenon Nouran Gohar, 11-9,11-7, 13-11, 11-9. Gohar hot from winning the World Junior Championship in Poland on Aug 17, seemed in top form.
Gohar, looks like a queen in waiting and Hong Kong seemed to have quickly taken her to their hearts after such a commanding and incredible win over one of her role models on and off the court. It was impossible not to feel like we were watching the next big star of the women’s game announcing herself emphatically to the senior ranks over the past week.
23-year-old American Amanda Sobhy upset Egyptian world No 1 Nour El Sherbini in 3 sets in the other semi-final, 12-10, 11-5, 11-6. Sobhy was thrilled coming back from 10-5 down in the first game before finding the pace of her opponent and then never giving her a chance.
Meeting Gohar in the 1st World Series Final of the year, Sobhy was full of confidence, having not backed her form to see her past the quarter finals. She started well to take the 1st game and was ahead in the 2nd set, but Gohar upped her speed to the ball, and her shots to level the score. Sobhy then became more imposing, making contact several times with Gohar, who should have cleared more quickly – and both were spoken to by the referee. These two precocious talents traded quality shots in the next two games, with Gohar taking the spoils 6-11, 12-10, 11-7, 11-9.
Gohar thanked her mother for joining her in Hong Kong and said she owes her, “everything she says makes perfect sense” and also thanked God.
In the men’s final, Ashour met Egyptian world No 8 Gawad, who was made to work hard in the other men’s semi-final against tenacious Australian world No 16 Ryan Cuskelly, before winning 11-7, 11-6, 6-11, 12-10.
Ashour nicknamed “The Artist” had beaten Gawad in all three previous meetings and took the first game with some stylish play by the experienced professional. Gawad came back in another close game, to take the 2nd.
Ashour’s shots returned to type, taking game 3 and after he was given a conduct warning for commenting too much on a disputed no-let call, Gawad took the 4th game to level the match. However, Gawad gave way first as Ashour regained the composure of a champion to win 11-9, 8-11, 11-6, 5-11, 11-6.
Ashour was clearly delighted with his victory after overcoming a series of recent injuries and beating a player who he said was one of his favourite to watch – but not to play against, as it was always very tough.
Andrew Wood is a sportsman and Squash Player in Hong Kong.