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• Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open • 17-23 Nov 2008 • 

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En Bref Issue #5
Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Hong Kong Open ...


I must say I was stunned by the settings Hong Kong Squash have offered us this time round.

Last time I was there, the court was facing the other way, as in we didn't see the harbour. And I remember feeling a bit weird, thinking that the water was right being me – was I going to fall in it??? Stupid, but that's the way I felt then.

This time round, the court is now facing the Bay, and as we were sitting watching the first match, we could see right being not only the water, the magic Hong Kong magic building line over the other side slowly getting darker and darker, with all the lights switching on from nowhere, but also, boats, ships, junks of all size and colours, passing by as the players were moving in the aquarium…

And as much I wanted to stay focused on the game at all times, I just couldn't help letting my mind follow those ships, gazing at the lights as they were passing by.

This was one of those moments…

a boat passes by....


The players really had to play in complete different conditions from the Centre on this first day. First, the court that was more griping, told us Shabana, and it took them a bit of time to get used to the bounce of the court.

But there was also a lot of crowd around the court, some just glancing for a few minutes, taking a few pictures – with flash, of course, that did disturb a few rallies – some that just stayed for the whole time.

We had the loud guy on the phone, completely unaware of the rest of the world ... the kids having the time of their life, screaming their heads off, and enjoying every minute of it ... a musical group, four stunning performer at about 250 metres from the court ... and of course, we had the horns from the boats tearing the night…

And strangely, all that set up a perfect atmosphere of joy, calm excitement, peace and contentment.

So surreal, so timeless, so original and yet so traditional…

So Hong Kong…


Last year, Steve met James Barrington, and had a long chat with him. The Squash Fan, Sales & Marketing Director of Cathay Pacific was of course in the first row for the semis, and between the Grinhams' match and Greg/James, I was lucky enough to be able to have a few words with him.

Like us all, he was having a great time watching the matches, it’s obvious that he loves squash.

“I think that the recent changes to squash have made the sport a fantastic entertainment. It’s fantastic, just amazing what the players can do these days, their level of fitness is incredible, and thanks to the lower tin, we don’t have two guys bashing the ball up and down the wall for two hours, but players that attack constantly. I think that the past five years have been extremely positive for squash.

“Also, I think it’s much better value for the sponsors and the spectators to have both men and women at events, it means that on semi-finals night, we have four matches instead of two, and on the finals night, two instead of one.”

And of course, I couldn’t help asking the usual, who’s your favourite player? Jahangir’s name was promptly on his lips.

“I was lucky enough not only to meet but to play with Jahangir a few years back, and anybody who’s seen that legend play can only state he is the greatest player of all times, and a true Ambassador to our sport.

Nowadays, Shabana is a wonderful player, and contrarily to Jahangir’s era, he’s got people to push him, as they are much more players at the top of the game than at Jahangir’s time. And Shabana is certainly on his way to become one of the greatest player of all times too.”

To finish, I asked him about Cathay Pacific's future on the Squash Circuit.

“When we are looking at how wonderfully Hong Kong Squash has organised this event, the settings, organising clinics for the juniors with all the top players, the TV and press coverage, from a sponsor's point of you, we are of course delighted to be part of this event.

“But this has been a terrible year for the airlines”, he admitted, “and the toughest year for sponsorship ever. And, as much as Hong Kong Squash is our favourite sponsorship, and our longest, in the New Year, we’ll have to have a good look at whether or not we do any sponsorship at all…"

We can only hope that the situation is going to improve soon, people, because Hong Kong Open without Cathay Pacific, wouldn’t be the same, would it? So, please everybody, do like me, fly CX, ok????

En Bref Issue #4
Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Hong Kong Open ...

Yesterday, as in, the quarters, was the last day we spent at the Hong Kong Squash Centre, metres away from the famous "Peak Tram" that takes hundreds of tourists daily to the top of the city.

I really enjoyed being here again, having the great pleasure again to see Heather Deayton in her "natural environment", although I see her sometimes in other parts of the world, and Tony Choi, the Big Boss around here, both so respected by so many generations of players, and making their utmost best to make your stay enjoyable…

And of course, how not to mention lovely Iris Chung, in charge of the Press Office, who has been so helpful all week, and her team, so efficient, that allowed us to work in perfect conditions, with the material we needed, when we needed.

Let's not forget Percy, the Computer Genius that sorted out my computer – yes, AGAIN, having big computer trouble – and his assistant, Kenny, who went out of their way to help me out. Fingers crossed, it seems sorted now…

And just before closing the door on that stunning place, a little smile to the kitchen people, who have been serving hundreds of teas, coffees, noodles, sandwiches, to us all, with order and organisation. They've been really helpful, opened early, closed late, always a smile. And I still laugh every time I thinking about the notice, "pay first". At least, you know where you stand.

I hope that I'll get to see all those people again. It's been a privilege to work in those surroundings, and although covering a men/women event of that calibre is always a challenge for a small team like ours, with Malcolm constant help and support, Steve and I hope that we've offered you the news as you want them – as it happens – a bit of a challenge when you have four matches happening at the same time for eight hours running on different locations in a multi level building…


So many times, the Sponsors – we love them – do support events, but are not that keen on watching the matches. Well for the quarters, one of the main event sponsors, Jacento Tong, CEO of Gale Well Group, a major investment company, watched most of the day matches.

"I used to play squash a lot", he smiled, "but that was a loooooong time ago". Don't I know the feeling.

As most of the crowd here, he is very knowledgeable, and as we were waiting for decisions to be made, I could hear him whisper "let", or "stroke", and actually, he got it 100%!

He also seemed particularly impressed by Ramy's way with the racquet. Aren't we all…


You may have read Natalie Grainger's quote after her victory against Alison yesterday, where she was referring to my pink scarf that she could see – and looking at the photos, I guess a lot of people too.

Well, it's actually a gift. Because in Hong Kong like in most of the warm countries we are travelling to, the air con seems to be always full blast, and we end up with winter clothes or bad colds and sore throats!

And on one day, the temperature was so freezing that I ended up begging everybody for a jacket or anything warm, by the way, thanks to Julien Balbo who was kind enough to freeze his charming butt to prevent me to fall ill!

So when I arrived the next day, Heather Deayton, Hong Kong GodFairy for so many years, now a WSF Vice-President, arrived with a lovely parchemina of bright pink, a colour I used to wear an awful lot when I was younger actually. Yes, I've been young too, you silly punters…

Actually, when you look at Heather's photo, you may guess which is her favourite colour…

WISPA President Natalie Grainger lives in the State, like so many people now – just read yesterday's en brefs - and likes it!! I even heard she has now found a lovely charming man that makes her heart
beat that much faster…

And although she loves living in the US, it occurred to both of us that, as she loves her food – don't start her on foie gras, she'll start telling you that if she had only one day to live, that's what she would eat! - her wine, French cheese, and so many things that I cannot decently put in this column, she could be French!

I wouldn't mind, I tell you, having her playing number one for France, with Isa and Camille, we would be unstoppable. Natalie, is it too late for you to switch from the US to "la belle France"???

En Bref Issue #3
Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Hong Kong Open ...
At Breakfast with ...
Once again, as we are all very busy, and due to the Club multi level construction, it’s not that easy to actually meet my players, and the best time to chat away? Breakfast of course…

Tania Bailey is back.. How nice it was to see her lovely face again on the tour. She is truly one of the nicest and most discreet players you can find, she never has a bad word on anybody. She was a bit worried before the event, she was afraid her body wouldn’t help the pressure. But after playing against Jenny, she is now reassured. The knee will help up, and I’m glad to think that she’ll be in the English Team in Egypt in two weeks – although the official announcement hasn’t been done yet, so, nothing is sure of course.

And just for the sake of it, here is a little photo that I prepared for you earlier, extracted from our French site, “Mémoire du Squash”, that features Tania when she became Junior World Champion in 1997 in Rio. And let’s see if you can recognise who is next to her on the pic…


Another girl who went to the States… Suzie Pierrepont was not too happy with her settings in the UK, and when she was offered a part time coaching job in Philadelphia, she decided that it was time she would earn a bit of money out of squash for once!

“That job gives me enough time to train and play tournaments, my boss is lovely and very understandable, he lets me travel for weeks on end, even if I’ve got to work hard when I come back! It also give me time to work on my studies – living Sciences, biology in particular.

Not to mention that I can now do a lot of tournaments without having to travel too far. In the past months, I’ve done seven tournaments within $200 travelling cost, and that allows me to actually earn my life, instead of what I had to do previously, as in spend an awful lot in travelling, and have very little left once the tournament was over….”

Another happy US customer…

Another happy bunny is David Palmer. Like so many players at the moment, David has made his big move when he left Antwerp to settle in Boston. And he is ever so happy, both for himself, his job at the Boston University Club fulfil all his wishes, and for Mel his wife and daughter Kayla.

"Boston is full of parks minutes from our home, minutes for the club, situated right in the centre of town. And although the club is a private club, members there are extremely friendly, and working in that environment is just wonderful.

"Mel can also come round when she wants to train, we can leave Kayla at the crčche for two three hours, and we can even monitor her from the gym, as they have TV channels dedicated to show what the kids are doing! They are doing great activities, and that allows us not to worry about her."

Like John White, David’s favourite subject of conversation is his kid’s welfare. And his move to the States, and to Boston in particular, that is a town with human scales, not too big, very friendly, has set up for him and his family a perfect set up….

Princes James
& LJ entertain

Prince players James Willstrop and Laurens Jan Anjema held a clinic for many of the local juniors at the Hong Kong Football Club on day one of the event - as you can see it was a great turnout ...

En Bref Issue #2
Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Hong Kong Open ...


The Hong Kong crowd was spoiled for choice when we started the final day of the qualifiers, as two home girls, Elise Ng, who you may know by name as she’s been slowly but surely climbing the ranking ladder, but also a less known junior, Joey Chan, were winning exciting five-setters to qualify for the main draw.

Tony Choi, in charge of the Junior Program in Hong Kong and the Big Man around here, although his permanent smile, kindness and respect make you forget how powerful that gem of a man is, was a happy man, needless to say.

"This day is a good day for Hk, we get two of our girls who qualify for the main draw, especially with Joey upsetting Latasha," he said.

"Joey is confirming her progression, and proves that she made the right choice by becoming a full time athlete only a few months back. You can see the difference, she’s been travelling a lot around, getting into tournaments, getting experience and exposure to different sort of games…

"And of course, in Hong Kong, she’ll play well, no pressure on her…"

I wanted to know a bit more about that 'junior program' I keep on hearing about, so Tony explained:

"Overall, our juniors are doing very well, and it’s nice to see the results of our Junior Development program, that we started 10 years ago, that offers a good fundamental training.

"We start with mini-squash from 6 to 10 years old, then the kids get into our district training, there are 18 districts in HK, and we have training in 16 of them. From there, the best juniors go to regional training (we have 5 of those), and then they get to the HK Squash Institute, with a scholarship program, where I can monitor their improvement and evolution."

I have the strange feeling that, as Wael stated about Egypt a few months ago, as “there must be an Egyptian factory to produce great young players, and we’ve got to find it to stop it!”, we may be witnessing an invasion of Hong Kong great players on the World Squash circuit.

Could Hong Kong be the New Egypt????


Blimey. If you thought, like I do, that LJ is an extremely handsome boy, wait until you wait and meet the rest of the family!

Already his dad, former Netherland Champion, is absolutely to die for, but what about his "little brother" ????

When you see him, the word "rugby international" comes to mind….

Anymore in the family you want to introduce us to, LJ…..?

Qualifier Suzie Pierrepont, with Sophia, her cousin,
from Hong Kong


As you may know, English Physio Phil Newton has been travelling with the English boys and girls for a while now, and is very popular with his players. And he knows how not to take himself seriously too.

I was chatting with Kempy after I heard he just withdrew from his match against Scott Arnold.

“You didn’t tell me anything about that when I saw you about two hours ago,” I said.

“Well”, Jonathan replied, “it happened during training this morning, my hamstring just snapped!”

And Phil who was standing right next to him added, “Useless physio! You can quote me on that one!!!! I was there, I had a whole hour to sort him out, and could I do it??? No! Useless Phil Newton….”

“Absolutely” added Kempy. “A whole hour! And nothing”…

To make the whole matter even worse, this was the second year in a row that the Englishman had to retire from qualifying in the event because of an injury.

Third time lucky maybe, Jonathan?


It was the first time I had the chance to see Australian Donna Urquhart in the flesh, and sorry for the corny phrase, but what a nice flesh that is! She is absolutely stunning, and she can hit the ball too, people…

She is actually thinking about moving to England, and as she has a family friend around Ponte, she is thinking about training with Malcolm and DP, which will more than certainly help her raise her level and get many more partners to play with.

And if Pontefract already has a few stunning ladies, like Lauren, Becky, Kirsty, Deon, Sarah, not to mention the new Indian top model material Dipika, I wonder if Mick wouldn't be better off dropping SquashSite to open a model agency if Donna joins the club as well…

En Bref Issue #1
Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Hong Kong Open ...

Getting the Centre ready
Steve Cubbins reports

Hong Kong Squash Centre is going to be a busy place over the next few days, and on arrival we could see that the finishing touches to the 'decorations' are being made - putting the posters up, the big draws, all the notices, making one of the courts into the media room ... lots and lots of jobs to do ...


Not many players have arrived at the hotel yet – the qualifiers are billeted and a lot of the main draw are staying with friends or family – but still, because of the jetlag, I’m up early (actually, I sleep two hours, then work for the next two, back to sleep for two hours…), I’ve been able to catch up with a few of my players – here are the latest news I’ve got for you….

Queen Nicol has grown her hair back thank Gods of Squash, and is back to a colour that is more conventional – she went for a while to Annelize Naude hairdresser, I rest my case. I’m so glad.

More seriously, she spent a few days home in Malaysia, and seems fit and sound, not suffering anymore from any jetlag, lucky girl… Same for Azlan, who spent a few weeks home, and hasn’t played squash for a while to give his leg injuries time to heal. You’ll be glad to know that his scan is now clear….

Anthony Ricketts is back once again to advise and support the New Zealand team, amongst which is girlfriend Shelley Kitchen, still as fit as a fiddle. It’s so nice to see Intense Anthony becoming LaidBack Ricketts, it suits his figure perfectly….

James Willstrop and Vanessa Atkinson were in excellent mood yet again – God, those happy and contended people are sooooo annoying aren’t they, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to convince Vanessa to try dim sum (steamed food) at breakfast, although James and Legend Cubbins are still quite reluctant, but I don’t despair…

Malcolm Willstrop is among us now, and with his usual natural charisma and a diplomatic sense that makes my behaviour look nearly friendly, he’ll be covering a few of the matches, for which the SquashSite team is truly grateful…

Hong Kong Park
Steve Cubbins reports

Just next to the HK Squash Centre is the lovely Hong Kong Park, which provides a soothing patch of greenery, meandering paths and water features amidst the towering skyscrapers of the city.

It's also a popular place for families and newly-weds to have their photos taken, and today it was taken over by newly-graduated students having their graduation photos taken by proud parents or fellow students.

Borja Golan and Omar Abdel Aziz were keen to have their photo taken too, but the idea that they would have to get married first seemed to turn them off the idea, for some reason ...

En Bref

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