Team Hong Kong confident ahead of Asian individual squash championship

The Hong Kong team, according to its coach Leung, is strong in mind, which could hold the key to a successful tournament.

The top seeds, in the men and women sections, in the Asian individual Squash Championship Max Lee (green) and Annie Au of Hong Kong practising at the ISA.   -  M. Vedhan

“They are playing and I am sweating,” says Dick Leung, acting Head coach of the Hong Kong team, referring to his players who are literally going through the paces at the Indian Squash Academy (ISA) ahead of the Jio-19th Asian individual squash championship to be held here (at Express Avenue Mall and ISA) from April 26 to 30.

The Hong Kong team, according to Leung, is strong in mind, which could hold the key to a successful tournament. “Physically too they are good, but the humid weather conditions might play a role,” says Leung, wiping his face with a towel.

Leading the Hong Kong team in the men’s and women’s sections will be Max Lee and Annie Au respectively, who have been given the No.1 seeding in the five-day meet.

Max, at 29 years, is keen to break the quarter-final barrier after failing in his previous five previous attempts in the Asian championship. “I will only think of entering the semi-finals, then will think of winning the title,” says Max, ranked 16th in the world and owner of 11 PSA titles.

Max feels the 23-year-old Yiz Tsz Fung, his team-mate will be the player to watch out for. “Yip has had a very good year reaching the quarter-finals of the President’s Gold Cup and won his first PSA tour title winning the Holtrand Open in Canada,” says Max.

For Annie, the target will be reaching the semi-finals. “The field is quite competitive. All the players in the top four are tough,” she says. “The draw has lot of good players from India, Pakistan and Malaysia.”

Annie, ranked 11 in the world, opines that the Hong Kong women’s team’s performance has been on the upward curve. In the World women’s team championship held at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France in November-December last year, Hong Kong finished third. “We made history then. It was the same team of four [Annie, Liu Tsz Ling, Joey Chan and Tong Tsz Wing] in France,” remembers Annie, who has reached the final of the Asian meet thrice in 2011, ‘13 and 15, and winning once in ‘13.

In the absence of Nicol David, former World No.1 and the defending champion, Annie is of the view that the tournament has become more unpredictable. “Anybody and everybody has a chance now. It’s more exciting,” she says.

Even though Annie has won 13 PSA titles, she fondly remembers the Cleveland Classic held in 2014, where she lost in the final to Nicol David. “I came through qualifying and played six matches, beating top-ranked players Jenny Duncalf and Lausa Massaro and some higher-ranked players,” she says.

Max and Annie are pleased with their games in the last couple of years with their hard work yielding the desired results. “Reaching the semi-final of the PSA event, the Hong Kong Open last year was what I would call a breakthrough tournament,” feels Max.

Annie says in the last two years she has won at least one PSA title every year, which is a good sign. “I have been consistent, if not great,” she says.