Hong Kong Still East Asian Champions
By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
The final round of the 11th East Asian Squash Championships had all the fanfare that was expected, with defending champions Hong Kong playing Japan for the title, which they won after a highly entertaining tie. Korea and China both won their ties to ensure a third and fourth place finish. Hosts Macau, thanks to China beating Chinese Taipei, finished fifth and Chinese Taipei came out sixth after losing all their encounters.
It was a fitting finale after three days of competition as the two nations are clearly well and above the others in terms of standards. Hong Kong retained the title (Hong Kong won both men’s and women’s last year when it was contested separately) after beating a very determined Japan team.
First on was the men’s third match, Chris Lo playing for Hong Kong in place of higher ranked Lau Tse Kwan, who is presumably rested after his marathon the evening before, and Masaki Suzuki for Japan. As how the previous matches were, Suzuki started in a ferocious pace, leading Lo to play in that momentum.
Despite that, Lo started first game better, opening up a 2-point lead to 2-0 and 4-2 and later, from 5-5, he opened up a 3-point gap to 9-6. Lo snapped his strings in the next rally and was lucky enough to have it ended with a let decision. However, that break allowed Suzuki to recoup and take five points in a row to close the game out.
Suzuki played very well in the first. While he was striking the ball hard as always, it just seems there is a purpose for it rather than how it looked the previous times. His body language was also very positive and determined.
The second kicked off with a backhand kill into the nick from Suzuki, followed by a lucky mishit that got him to 2-0. He maintains the 2-point cushion right up to 3-1 thanks to a tin from Lo. However, it was all downhill from hereon. Seven tins, a winner, a stroke and a no let against him clinched the game for Lo.
In the next two games, Lo had gotten used to the pace he was trying to slow down and was in total control for most of the parts. The third was still competitive to an extent, but in the fourth, the Suzuki from the day before showed up again, hitting every ball as hard as he could, which resulted in a lot of inaccurate shots that came right back to Lo who would clinically finish it.
“I’m quite satisfied with how I played today. In the start, the game was a little aggressive (not in a physical way), it was very high paced which he likes a lot. I lost a lot of points at the front from his volleys.
After the first, my coach Anson (Kwok) told me to slow down and vary the pace, which I did, and it worked. I kept the pace slower, tighter, and paid more attention when he had the chance to volley”, Chris Lo said later, who now holds a 1-0 record against Suzuki.
Hong Kong senior team debutant Lui Hiu Lam maintained her 100% winning record in the competition after she defeated 22-year old Risa Sugimoto over three closely contested games. The start of the first was point for point between two of the shortest women in the competition. At 5-4 up, Lui wins a string of three points to go 8-4 before Sugimoto responds with a string of five points herself, leading 9-8 now. She gets to game point at 10-9, then 11-10 and 12-11, but fails to convert either of them.
At 10-11 game ball down, Lui plays a brave kill off the serve to draw level, then Sugimoto does the same to go game ball up again 12-11, which Lui does exactly the same to draw level, completing a hattrick of kills of the serve between them. Lui finishes the game on her first game ball 13-12 and Sugimoto will be very disappointed not doing so over the three opportunities she had.
The second was also close like I the first, but rallies were lengthier now. Sugimoto managed to nudge ahead to 7-5, but she gave it all away too easily the next four quick points and it pretty much put her off, and the game. 11-8 to Lui who now led 2-0.
The third finished with the same score line and similar fashion, Sugimoto losing four straight points once again in the end, from being 8-7 up to 8-11. Overall, Lui had a much better front game than Sugimoto and her attacking boasts from the forehand side clearly trouble the Japanese.
The top men from both nations, Hong Kong’s Yip Tsz Fung and Japanese teenager Ryunosuke Tsukue have thus far, not been tested much in the competition. Today, both played an entertaining match much to the delight of the crowd. While the world number 49, Yip came out victorious, but it was the speed and agility of Tsukue that drew the most cheers from the crowd.
In the first game, it was all Yip’s as the Japanese national champion was totally disoriented with the slow pace of the rallies. From being 3-4 down, Yip won eight straight points in a very short time to take the lead. It was evident that Tsukue prefers a much faster pace that allows his zippy self to run from corner to corner without the need for stopping much. In the last few points, he simply gave up trying and went very hard in trying to kill the ball, which resulted in multiple mistakes.
The second game was somewhat totally the opposite. Yip would take a 2-0 lead and then Tsukue manages to inject some pace and draw Yip into it, and it would win him six out of the next seven points. Yip does recovers from the slump and even went head at 9-8, but that was cancelled out with a forehand drop winner from the back. Tsukue rallies on to win 11-9 and draw level.
The first half of the third had both players trading points, with Yip just inching ahead at 5-3. The lead changes hands after Tsukue gets a run of four points, with a backhand kill into the nick in between, to go 7-5 up and then 8-6. Yip somehow manages to turn things around once again with five straight points to take the lead once again.
In the fourth, it was Yip on overdrive, going to 6-0 in a matter of minutes. Tsukue looked tired and at 0-6 down, it would be hard to blame the young man for not looking determined. Just as many would’ve brushed him off at this point, there was a second wind coming from him. He gets those rallies going again and manages to go close to 7-5.
But the next rally would be a very long one with Tsukue on the defensive, running all four corners of the court and eventually losing it. That took the toll on him as he next went to match ball down 6-10.
At this point, the delegates of the East Asian Squash Federation annual general meeting walked into the venue after their meeting and was treated to a feast from the young Japanese. He came back once again with some great retrieving, and forced the tie break, but Yip had the final say, and with that, kept the title in Hong Kong for another year.
Just like the top men’s tie, Liu Tsz-Ling and Satomi Watanabe gave an entertaining performance despite the tie already being decided. Liu, the world number 31 from Hong Kong, just manages to edge a young and hungry Satomi Watanabe in five games, having forced to come back from 1-2 down.
The first game started with some high paced rallies, with the Japanese quicker to find her range in court, and was rewarded with the first two points. Liu then extends the rallies and wins a streak of four straight points to go 4-2 up and maintains her 2-point cushion up to 8-6 and then 9-6. The Japanese teenager tightened her game and slowly went up to game ball at 10-9.
A no let decision at 10-9, which cancelled out her game ball might have affected Watanabe, who questioned the referee’s decision. In the next two rallies, her concentration was not as evident as two backhand flicks from Liu would send her the wrong direction. Game, 11-9 to Hong Kong.
In the second game, Liu won the first two points but then was always behind throughout the game. A run of errors, four tins in five points somewhere in the middle of the game did most of the damage, allowing Watanabe to come out tops in the second game 11-5.
Watanabe continues her good form in the third, crafting out her rallies beautifully. At some points in this game, Liu seemed to look very tired and did not even chase down some returns which she could and would normally do so. But given the nature of Liu, who does not show much emotion in her game, it was hard to tell. Watanabe wins the third to lead 2-1 and was a game away from her biggest scalp.
Perhaps it was wrong to think any lesser of Liu, as she came back very strongly in the next 2 games to win convincingly 11-4 in both games.
In the final match of the tie, Hong Kong completed the clean sweep with Yuen Tsun Hei beating Taiki Kaido in four games over 33 minutes of play.
In the other two ties, China edged Chinese Taipei 3-2 and Korea beat Macau 4-1.
Results (Day Three):
Hong Kong bt Japan 5-0
Yip Tsz Fung bt Ryunosuke Tsukue 11-4, 9-11, 11-8, 12-10
Yuen Tsun Hei bt Taiki Kaido 9-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-4
Chris Lo bt Masaki Suzuki 9-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-4
Liu Tsz-Ling bt Satomi Watanabe 12-10, 5-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-4
Lui Hiu Lam bt Risa Sugimoto 14-12, 11-8, 11-8
Korea bt Macau 4-1
Lee Geondong bt Steven Liu 11-3, 11-2, 12-10
Lee Seung Jun bt Manuel chan Gassmann 11-3, 11-4, 11-3
Yoo Jae Jin bt Leung Teng Chi 11-2, 11-1, 11-1
Park Eun Ok lost to Ivy Liu w/o
Yura choe bt Yeung Wing Chi 11-7, 11-3, 11-3
China bt Chinese Taipei 3-2
Wang Jun Jie bt Chen Sheng Kai 11-3, 11-5, 11-6
Shen Jia Qi bt chen Ching Han 8-1, rtd
Yang Tian Xia lost to Chen Cheih Ming 9-11, 8-11, 5-11
Lee Dong Jin lost to Lee Yi Shuan 11-8, 10-12, 9-11, 5-11
Gu Jin Yue bt Lu Yung chi 11-6, 11-1, 11-1
Picture by Macau Squash Association