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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Exclusive Interview with Hong Kong stars Leo and Annie Au

Alex Wan
Alex Wan is an avid squash lover who writes, photographs, plays and coaches when he is not making a living with his Finance degree.

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Leo and Annie Au celebrate their Asian titles
Leo and Annie Au celebrate their Asian titles with coach Dick Leung

Brother and sister act steal the show in Asia
By ALEX WAN – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor

 

Nicol David won her ninth title at the 18th Asian Individual Squash Championships in Kuwait earlier this month, but it was the Au siblings from Hong Kong who truly stole the show as both beat the he seedings to make the final of their respective events.

Leo Claims His First

unnamedLeo Au claimed his maiden Asian title, beating Kuwait’s Abdulah Al-Mezayen in the final, and his win was definitely not one which many, or I’d even dare say any, would have expected.

The draw had favoured top-seeded compatriot Max Lee, who seemed to have a relatively clear path into the final.

But in an upset-ridden quarter-finals, where top two seeds, Max Lee and India’s Saurav Ghosal, were sensationally taken out by their Pakistani opponents, the title was thrown out in the open.

While the Pakistanis took out the top two seeds, none of them managed to clear the next hurdle against their higher seeded opponents.

In the final, home favourite Abdullah, who won the Asian Games gold medal, started as the clear favourite, but the exhausting semi-final against Nasir Iqbal must have taken its toll.

The Hong number two Leo Au played his shortest match of the tournament to be crowned Asian champion after just 47 minutes in a straight games victory.

The win makes him the first Hong Kong man to win the championships, which elder sister Annie later joked on social media that he may be the first man, but she would always be the first person from Hong Kong to achieve that feat.

Annie Au in action against Nicol David
Annie Au in action against Nicol David

Defending champion Annie falls in final to Nicol David

In the women’s event, world number one Nicol David expectedly walked away with the title without dropping a game. En-route to the title, she beat three Hong Kong players, defending champion Annie Au being the final opponent. Annie, 26, is a year older than brother Leo.

 

While the women’s event was not as dramatic as the men’s, there was a notable upset where Delia Arnold saw off India’s Dipika Pallikal, the second seed, in the quarter finals.

The Malaysian, known for her pink-coloured compression socks, could not repeat her feat in the semi-finals against Annie, despite having match ball in the fourth game being 2-1 games up. Annie faced three Malaysians in a row, overcoming Rachel Arnold in the quarter-finals, Delia  in the semis and then Nicol David in the final. 

Nicol’s win stretches her unbeaten streak in this championships to 17 years, having first won her maiden title in 1998 as a 15 year old.

The Au siblings spared some time off during the British Open to reflect both their performances in Kuwait and some other things.

Leo Au at full stretch as he wins the Asian men's final
Leo Au at full stretch as he wins the Asian men’s final

How do you feel about your performance at the Asian Individuals?

Annie : I think overall, I am satisfied with my performance, especially in the match against Delia (Arnold) where I came back from 2-1 and match ball down. I can see that my fitness level has improved but there is still room for improvement.

Leo : It is really amazing to win such a big title. I never thought I could win this before the tournament. I can’t imagine I am the first Hong Kong player to win it. I’m really thankful for the support from my coaches, the Hong Kong Sports institute, the government and my family.

With both of you making it to the final of your events, must be a very special moment?

Annie : Yes, it is our first time being in the final of the Asian Individual Championships together. In fact it is his first medal, as well as being the first Asian men’s champion for Hong Kong. I can see that he is really focussed in this tournament and getting more matured in terms of his tactics and skills. I’m truly proud of what he has achieved.

Leo : Yes, it is definitely a very special moment for us! I told her two years ago when she won the same title in Pakistan that I wish I could win this title also, but I didn’t think it would be this near in the future. Both of us are really surprised about it.

Annie and Leo as children with their proud parents
Annie and Leo as children with their proud coaches Dick Leung and Jovi Au

How will this win spur you on in your career?

Annie: This title will give me a lot more confidence in my career. I was always lacking of confidence whenever I play against higher ranked players, which affects my performance. But after winning this, I believe I can also be able to compete with the other top players in Asia. I hope I can keep this up and play even better next time.

Did you expect such a straightforward and easy win in the final?

Leo: Honestly, I never thought I would win in three. As everyone knows, Abdullah is a very talented player. Even after winning the first two games, I was still thinking I may lose in the end, which is what he did in the Asian Games final against Saurav (Ghosal), coming back from two games down to win.

The fact that he was playing in front of his home crown, I was sure he would try his very best to win too. I’m really happy with my performance in the final, it was a very good experience for myself.

Does the competition give an indication of further Asian participation in the professional tour?

Annie: I do think more Asian ladies will play professionally in future. Squash itself is becoming more popular in the world. It is also a sport that really suits the Asian physique. We are already seeing more players from different countries participate at the Asian Individual Championships than ever before.

 

 

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