Hong Kong and Japan To Fight For East Asian Title
By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor
Hong Kong and Japan maintain their unbeaten run after four rounds of play at the 11th East Asian Squash Championships and will play each other for the title tomorrow morning. Hosts Macau meanwhile, chalked up their first win while Chinese Taipei remain without a win.
Korea and Chinese Taipei started the ball rolling on the second day of play on the centre court. First up was the second men’s match between Yoo Jae Jin and Chen Chieh-Ming. The former, who played brilliantly the previous day against Japan, continued with good run as he outplayed his opponent.
After winning the first two games comfortably 11-6 and 11-4, he continued to dominate in the next, leading from 2-0 and then 10-4 with some crafty wrist play that often wrong footed the Taiwanese. A string of unforced errors had Chen closing the gap to 10-8 before a backhand into the tin ended the match in 26 minutes.
Yura Choe and Lu Yung-Chi played the shortest match of the tournament so far, lasting just 13 minutes. It’s a very big mismatch between the two players, with Choe racing halfway through the game through a series of points in each of the three games. The final score of 11-3, 11-1, 11-2 certainly was a true representation of how the game went.
Next on court was the top men’s tie, Korea’s Lee Geondong taking on Chen Sheng-Kai. The much taller Lee was in control throughout the three games, sending Chen chasing all around in every rally. The first two games ended in identical scores of 11-5.
In the third, Lee took the first two points and then went up to 8-6. He did not drop further point and wrapped up the match convincingly to seal the tie for Chinese Taipei.
The fourth match, between the top women, was not played as Korea’s Park Eun Ok, was having trouble on her right knee, possibly from the bruising encounter the day before against Satomi Watanabe.
The last match of the tie also went Korea’s way, Lee Seung Jun beating the left handed Chen Ching-Han rather easily in three games over 18 minutes.
Japan maintained their unbeaten run, claiming their third straight win over hosts Macau in ruthless fashion. All the five matches ended in 3-0 and more convincingly, none of them went over the 20-minute mark.
Macau’s reserve player, the lanky Leung Teng Chi was first on court Masaki Suzuki, who was in no mood for mercy as he raced through the first game 11-1. The pace of Suzuki was simply too much to handle for Leung, who was just retrieving for the most parts of the game. As Leung got more settled, he fared better in the next two games, winning 4 points in each of them.
Risa Sugimoto had a similar game, sending the 15-year old Yeung Wing Chi sprawling all around the court, taking advantage of her pint sized opponent, taking her space to shut her out. 11-2 in the first game and then racing to 7-3 with a nick at the back of the court, and closing out 11-3.
The third was even more dominant as Sugimoto went seven points ahead no response with Yeung. She dropped just two more points to seal victory and a 2-0 lead for Japan in 18 minutes.
Macau’s Steven Liu played against Ryunosuke Tsukue, the 18 year old Japanese. He fared the best amongst his peers, gaining a respectable scoreline of 11-6, 11-5, 11-8 in his 16-minute loss.
Top woman Ivy Liu was no contest for the Malaysia-based Satomi Watanabe. The 17-year old was simply a class above Liu. The pace of the ball would force Liu to the back each time, to which she will hit a weak return for Watanabe to further punish her. That is pretty much the same scenario in most of the points in the first two games, which Watanabe won 11-2, 11-1.
The third was a little more respectable, with the rallies going on a little longer. However, it was inevitable that Japan would also take this tie, after Watanabe closed out the match 11-4.
Taiki Kaido, the Japanese number two, completed the sweep for Japan with a 11-5, 11-5, 11-6 with over Manuel Chan Gassman.
Favourites Hong Kong also maintained unbeaten after seeing off China 5-0. Chris Lo played at number three in place of Lau Tsz Kwan for Hong Kong, and faced Yang Tianxia. Like the many times, I have seen Lo played, he does no favours and takes every match seriously.
14 minutes is all it took for Lo to complete his job, who raced to a 6-0 lead in the first before his 17-year old opponent won a point. Lots of points were won on the backhand front corner and there were far too many tins from the Chinese youngster, very often shots made out of desperation.
15-year old Lui Hiu Lam, one of Hong Kong’s brightest juniors, was taken the distance by her lanky opponent, Gu Jinyue, a masters student at the Shanghai Sports Institute. The match was an interesting one, Gu using her height advantage and Lui trying to get round her. Squash-wise, Lui was well ahead of her badminton-turned-squash player opponent, but give Gu anything loose to volley, and it would be punished.
The first two games went Lui’s way, whose drives were a few inches deeper than Gu’s in general, which I feel pretty much made the big difference.
The third saw Gu deployed a strategy where she would draw Lui to the front with a boast and force a volleying opportunity, to which her badminton skills would come to good effect. It worked on many occasions and Gu was rewarded with a game, just about scrapping through 13-11.
The fourth was close, point for point, but Lui manages just about to win 11-9, after a backhand from the back caught Gu off guard.
China forfeited the top women’s tie, with Li Dongjin still injured. She did however, warm up, but decided against playing at all.
Yip Tsz Fung continued having an easy competition as he brushed aside Wang Junjie without having to play at full throttle in the top men’s match.
In the final match of the tie, China’s Shen Jiaqi came close to stealing a game off his Hong Kong opponent. After losing the first two games, the Shanghai-based Shen led 9-6 in the third. His urgency in closing out the game cost him, as a few tins from shots he should’ve played better saw the game swing Hong Kong’s Yuen Tsun Hei’s way.
Anson Kwok, Hong Kong’s coach said, “Even though we are a notch higher in terms of standards, we still need to be ready to face anything that is thrown at us. We have a junior lady with us, so it’s tougher for her than the others, as you saw today. It’s her first senior team event, so it’s good for her exposure.”
Hong Kong dropped their first point in the first match of their tie against Korea. Yoo Jae Jin, who has been playing brilliantly throughout the event, the 22-year old continued his good run when he edged Lau Tsz Kwan in, up to the time of writing, match of the tournament.
The game started with some very cautious rallying from both players trying to get their ranges and it was point for point, up to the Korean leading 6-5, when he called his own shot down for Lau to draw level at 6-a piece. His honestly must’ve been good karma as he did not drop another point from then to finish 11-6.
Lau draws level in the second game but in the third, he played a series of tins, six to be exact, including four consecutive ones at the end, to hand Yoo the lead. In the fourth, Yoo was in override and was waltzing around the court, picking up virtually everything from the world number 240. Yoo gets to game ball 10-6 after yet another tin from Lau.
With 4 match balls in hand, Yoo nearly blew them away after he allowed Lau five points in a row to 11-10. The next few rallies were very tensed, both players clearly not fully relaxed, making mistakes on shots that could’ve been winners. At 15-16 down, there was a dubious pickup from the Korean, much to the disgust of Lau, but the referees did not think so. After a brutal rally, Yoo gets to match ball and is gifted by yet another tin and Hong Kong drops their first point.
The second ladies tie took place next, with 15- year old Lui Hiu Lam taking on Yura Choe. The favourites could’ve been 2 matches down in the tie had Korea’s Yura Choe not blow a 2-0 lead away. The Korean surprises the crowd by sneaking past the first two games, 11-9 and 11-7.
A determined Liu came back convincingly to take the next 11-6 and the following two games went neck to neck. The 15-year old played with maturity beyond her age and eventually manages just enough to go through in 39 minutes.
“I’m quite satisfied overall. I have never played her so I didn’t have much expectations. In the first two games, I was a little too casual with my game. After losing the first two, I felt a little distracted because we had already lost one match in the tie. But I told myself to relax and I felt much better as the third game progressed. That gave me a lot of confidence and the belief to carry me through”, said a relieved Lui.
Yip Tsz Fung played his toughest match of the event so far, but was still head above shoulders against his opponent, winning against 36-year old Lee Geondong in straight games 11-2, 11-5, 11-1.
Korea’s Park Eun Ok’s discomfort which forced her to retire earlier in the day was still bugging her and decided to give a walkover to Hong Kong, who remain unbeaten at this point after an unassailable 3-1 lead in the tie.
In the final match of the tie, which was also the last match of the day, Yuen Tsun Hei took out a stubborn Lee Seung Jun in three competitive games.
While Hong Kong dropped their first point, Macau chalked up their first win in the event after edging out Chinese Taipei 3-2. Manuel Chan Gassmann of Macau started very well against Chen Chieh-Ming. Playing a very patient game, the teenager waiting for the right times to attack. His patience earned him a well-deserved first game 11-8.
However, just like the previous day, the confidence he had after taking the first game caused him to lose his focus as from the second game onwards, he was playing in a flashy demeanour that would cause him the match. Gone was the patient and prudent Manuel Chan Gassmann, who tried from every angle for a flashy winner. His game plan was out of the window, his body language was not calm and that allowed the far more composed Chen to take the following three games comfortably 11-3, 11-4, 11-6.
Little Yeung Weng Chi next took to court against fellow teenager, 17-year old Lu Yung-Chi and did well to win in four. Both girls were not playing the most beautiful squash, but given the level of infancy of the sport in their countries, it’s understandable.
Yeung took the first game 11-6 before a string of errors allowed Lu to draw level with an 11-4 win. She manages to get things in check in the next two games to win 11-6, 11-7 to draw things level for Macau.
Steven Liu, the Macau number one chalked his win of the event when he beat Taiwan’s Chen Cheng Kai in straight games. The first game was close, with both players still fresh. There were a lot of physical rallies with both players having to put a lot of work in.
That seem to have taken the toll on the Taiwanese player as he was a shadow of himself of the first game in the next two, losing 11-3, 11-2 to put Macau ahead in the tie.
Steven’s elder sister, Ivy Liu was on court next and had the opportunity to seal the tie against her opponent, 19-year old Lee Yi-Hsuan. The first game was a game of tins as most points were not earned, but given away by both the players. Lee took the first two rather close games 11-8 and 11-9, before closing out the third 11-4 to bring the tie level.
The Van Keng Hei and Taiwan’s Chen Ching Han would have been an interesting finale, but the latter would play the first game without a fight and then forfeit the match due to a back injury to hand Macau their first win.
Japan also remained unbeaten after defeating China 4-1. Masaki Suzuki started the ball rolling with an emphatic 25-minute win over China’s Yang Tian Xia, the 17-year old student of the Shanghai Sports Institute.
Like all the previous matches, Suzuki enjoys a monotonous pace in his game – fast and furious. This is not something which Yang is accustomed to given the way he was scrambling all over, and given Suzuki is not a natural with killing off the rally, it was torturous watching the Chinese running all over. He did a respectable job in the first, which he lost out narrowly 11-9.
But that took its toll and the former badminton trainee fizzled out in the next two, winning just another eight points in total.
China’s Gu Jin Yue, who has been surprising better known opponents in the last few ties, once again did so and this time, went further to claim a win for China. The first two games were the closest, with each player taking a game each, Japan first and then China, who clinched the game after a no let decision was given against Risa Sugimoto, which surprised the Japanese camp and some in the crowd, who thought it could even be a stroke.
The third was a one sided affair as Gu was in total control in the 11-2 win. But the gutsy Sugimoto crawled back to take the fourth 11-7, helped by a very loud Japanese camp, whom I must commend is the team that seems to be most united, judging by the volume of the cheering and encouragement from outside the court.
Gu started off well in the decider, going to 4-2 and then a string of points to 7-2, followed by shouts of “yes” after each point. The Chinese sensed victory and was now very pumped up, and maintained her 5-point lead up to 9-4, and eventually winning 11-5.
“I’m quite happy with how I played today, the way I fought out there. Never was I sure about winning at any point of the match, but I’m glad I came through”, said Gu, through the kind assistance of interpreter Monica Lan, a squash fan who had traveled from Shanghai to support the team.
The top men’s tie was quick, Ryunosuke Tsukue not giving any chance for Wang Jun Jie to settle, winning in just 19 minutes for the loss of four points.
Li Dong Jin of China maintained her consistency of playing a game before retiring due to her back injury, which makes it a wonder why doesn’t she just gives a walkover. It is so apparent that she is not trying or is not able to play at all.
The last match between Taiki Kaido and Shen Jia Qi was entertaining, with some good rallies all around. Ever the entertainer, Kaido was ever smiling in demonstrating his stretching abilities in his retrieving once again. Three games to Kaido, with the last two being very close affairs 12-10 and 11-9.
Japan and Hong Kong will play their final round-robin match against each other which would determine the winner of the event.
Korea bt Chinese Taipei 4-1
Lee Geondong bt Chen Cheng Kai 11-5, 11-5, 11-6
Lee Seung Jun bt chen Ching Han 11-5, 11-9, 11-6
Yoo Jae Jin bt Chen Cheih Ming 11- 6, 11-4, 11-8
Park Eon Ok bt Lee Yi Hsuan 11-0, rtd
Japan bt Macau 5-0
Ryunosuke Tsukue bt Steven Liu 11-6, 11-5, 11-8
Taiki Kaido bt Manuel Chan Gassmann 11-5, 11-5, 11-6
Masaki Suzuki bt Leung Teng Chi 11-1, 11-1, 11-4
Satomi Watanabe bt Ivy Liu 11-2, 11-1, 11-4
Risa Sugimoto bt Yeung Weng Chi 11-7, 11-3, 11-2
Hong Kong bt China 5-0
Yip Tsz Fung bt Wang Junjie 11-9, 11-3, 11-7
Yuen Tsun Hei bt Shen Jia Qi 11-8, 11-7, 12-10
Chris Lo bt Yang Tian Xia 11-1, 11-2, 11-2
Liu Tsz-Ling bt Li Dong Jin 11-3, rtd
Lui Hiu Lam bt Gu Jin Yue 11-9, 11-6, 9-11, 11-9
Hong Kong bt Korea 4-1
Yip Tsz Fung bt Lee Geodong 11-2, 11-5, 11-1
Yu Tsun Hei bt Lee Seung Jun 12-10, 11-7, 11-6
Lau Tse Kwan lost to Yoo Jae Jin 9-11, 11-7, 5-11, 16-18
Liu Tsz-Ling bt Park Eun Ok w/o
Lui Hiu Lam bt Yura Choe 9-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-8
Macau bt Chinese Taipei 3-2
Steven Liu bt Chen Cheng Kai 11-8, 11-3, 11-2
Van Keng Hei bt Chen Ching Han 11-0, rtd
Manuel Chan Gassmann lost to Chen Chieh Ming 11-8, 3-11, 4-11, 6-11
Ivy Liu lost to Lee Yi Hsuan 8-11, 9-11, 4-11
Yeung Weng Chi bt Lu Yung Chi 11-6, 4-11, 11-6, 11-7
Japan bt China 4-1
Ryunosuke Tsukue bt Wang Jun Jie 11-1, 11-1, 11-2
Taiki Kaido bt Shen Jia Qi 11-6, 12-10, 11-9
Masaki Suzuki bt Yang Tian Xie 11-9, 11-5, 11-3
Satomi Watanabe bt Li Dong Jin 11-3, rtd
Risa Sugimoto lost to Gu Jin Yue 13-11, 10-12, 2-11, 11-7, 5-11
Pictures by Macau Squash Association