By MICHAEL CATLING
WORLD number one Nicol David stayed on course for an unprecedented eighth success at the Hong Kong Open, with a hard-fought semi-final victory over Alison Waters.
David, who now equals Sarah Fitz-Gerald’s record of making an incredible 90 WSA Tour finals, was pushed hard by the world number four and needed to save a game-ball en-route to restoring parity at 1-1.
But buoyed by the manner of winning the second game, David shrugged off any first-game nerves to record a 9-11, 13-11, 11-7, 11-7 victory in just under an hour.
The 30-year-old will meet world number three Raneem El Weleily in the final tomorrow, after the Egyptian ended Annie Au’s hopes of a fairy-tale tournament win in front of her home crowd with a 3-0 victory.
But it was David’s victory, however, which had the Hong Kong Cultural Centre purring in delight, as she displayed her trademark resilience to overcome a spirited effort by England’s Alison Waters and notch up her 26th consecutive win on Tour.
David had a far superior head-to-head record going into the match, but struggled to deal with Waters’ ferocious hitting as she lost a tight opening game 11-9.
The defending champion quickly responded by edging ahead in the second game and looked set to level matters with three game balls at 10-7. However, Waters’ duly fought back and won four successive points to fashion her own game ball to take a 2-0 lead.
An inch-perfect length by David, though, tied the scores at 11-11 and two winner’s later, the Malaysian was left breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Waters battled back in the third but despite edging ahead with a 6-3 lead, David slowly reeled her in as the 29-year-old twice slipped in the back corner.
With the deficit now reduced and Waters uneasy with her footwork, David won the next five points to win the third game 11-7.
The fourth game would follow a similar pattern as Waters again squandered a slender advantage amid a flurry of unforced errors to hand David victory.
Afterwards, David pointed to the second game as proving pivotal in the outcome of their match.
“I knew the [second] game was important. I was just probably a bit fortunate in the end that she [Alison] made a mistake and that spurred me on and really brought my confidence up. I was then able to impose my game more in the third and fourth and I was really pleased to hang in there,” added the Penang-born player.
Earlier in the day, El Weleily wasted little time in ending Au’s challenge with a 11-6, 11-5, 11-5 victory in just 26 minutes.
Au caused a huge shock by ousting Laura Massaro in the quarter-finals, but never looked like repeating the feat as El Weleily dominated just their second meeting on Tour.
With a boisterous crowd watching on, El Weleily executed her game plan to perfection by preventing her opponent from attacking the front of the court.
Au has built a reputation this week for reeling off winner-after-winner but she struggled to impose her game as El Weleily dictated the rallies early on.
After losing the first-game 11-6, Au seemed devoid of ideas and struggled to feed off the energy of her home crowd as the Egyptian number one cruised through the following two games to advance into her fourth final this year.
The number three seed has now dropped just one game en-route to making the final and David is understandably wary about the threat being posed by the 24-year-old.
“We’ve met many times in finals and she is definitely a tough contender,” said David. “No doubt I will have to be really sharp from the beginning and very solid and true to my game. But I’m just really looking forward to playing the final in front of such a great crowd here again.”
For a comprehensive round-up of all the previous rounds at the Hong Kong Open, click here.
 Nicol David (Mas) 3-1  Alison Waters (Eng) 9-11, 13-11, 11-7, 11-7 (58m)
 Raneem El Weleily (Egy) 3-0  Annie Au (Hkg) 11-6, 11-5, 11-5 (26m)
 Nicol David (Mas) v  Raneem El Weleily (Egy)
Pictures by Steve Cubbins (SquashSite)