Angus Ng Ka-long made history by becoming the first home player to reach the men’s singles final at the Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open on Saturday.
In an all-Hong Kong affair, Ng, 22, defeated “big brother” Hu Yun in the semi-finals of the US$400,000 tournament following a straight games victory 21-17, 21-7 at the Coliseum in Hung Hom.
It’s the first time in more than 30 years of Hong Kong Open history, now one of the 12 superseries of the year, that a local player has reached the gold medal match.
“I am so happy to reach this milestone,” said Ng, who was the 2012 world junior champion in the boys’ doubles with Lee Chun-hei.
“I felt a bit nervous the night before as I have already made it to three superseries semi-finals this year but have failed to breakthrough. And this time I have to play in front of the home crowd and was not sure if I could perform to my best standard.
“It’s certainly going to be a big day for fans in the final as they have come to cheer the home player. I hope more can come to support their home player.”
Ng will now take on Sameer Verma of India as he chases his first superseries title victory. Verma, also 22, stunned Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark, the third seed, in the another semi-final 21-19, 24-22.
Verma saved three game points in the second game before forcing the match into deuce and then winning the set to secure the biggest win of his career.
“I have never thought of reaching the final in Hong Kong,” said Verma, who ranks 43rd in the world. “I was able to keep calm on the court and made him run. This is probably why I won.”
The first and only Indian player who won the Hong Kong Open men’s singles title was back at the inaugural event in 1982 when Prakash Padukone, a former world number one and the 1980 All England champion, lifted the title at Queen Elizabeth Stadium.
Against the more experienced Hu, who has already made it to three superseries finals in his career, Ng needed a bit luck to come from 17-14 and 19-17 behind before grabbing the crucial first game. The second game became a routine for the youngster as 35 year-old Hu apparently lacked the stamina to make a game of it.
“It was a tough first game but I didn’t give away too many attacking opportunities to my opponent,” he said. “Fortunately I have learned how to stay resolute under a difficult situation after experiencing a good lesson from last year’s Hong Kong Open.”
Ng also reached the semi-finals of last year’s home tournament after eliminating two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China in the early stages but world number one Lee Chong-Wei of Malaysia proved too strong for him as the world number one went on to win the title.
Hu admitted the first game was pivotal and once he failed to take it, he had little chance of coming back.
“My physical conditions have been seriously affected by the schedule as I played very late the previous night and did not sleep until 2am in the morning,” said Hu. “Had I won the first game, I might have been able to save some energy in the second before throwing everything in the third. But it didn’t happen.”
In the women’s singles, a dejected Carolina Marin left the venue in great disappointment after the reigning Olympic champion from Spain was sent packing.
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In women’s singles, Hong Kong’s Cheung Ngan-yi couldn’t emulate Ng and crashed out to up-and-coming Pusarla Sindhu of India, the Rio Olympics silver medallist, in her semi-final.
High-flying Sindhu, who also claimed the China Open trophy last week, cruised to a 21-14, 21-16 win to earn a showdown against Tai Tzu-Ying. The duo also met in the Rio Games when Sindhu easily thrashed Tai 2-0 (21-13, 21-15) in the round of 16.
Spain’s Carolina Marin, the world’s top player and defending champion of the Hong Kong event, had no answer to the deceptive play of Tai, who reigned supreme in a 21-17, 14-21, 21-16 victory in their women’s singles semi-final.
The result was in fact a repeat of last week’s China Open when the Taiwanese also thrashed the Olympic champion 2-0 (21-10, 22-20) in their last eight encounter.
Meanwhile, having clinched her second superseries podium spot in a month after another last four position in the Denmark Open, Cheung has completed her most successful run in the tour so far.
“I hope to build on the success of this year and consolidate my performance at the highest level before breaking through to another level,” said Cheung. “Sindhu is on a high after capturing the silver in Rio, and she moves well and with great confidence on the court. I felt my legs were heavy after a tough battle the night before when I beat the fifth seed in three games. But there is no excuse and I will work with my coach to improve.”
Things didn’t go right for other Hong Kong players as another pair of home players also made exits in the semis. Tang Man-chun and Tse Ying-suet came close to snatching the opening game against Indonesia’s Olympic gold medallists, Tontowi Ahmad and Lilyana Natsir inmixed doubles, who reached the final with a 23-21, 21-14 win.
But after six months as team, Tang and Tse were more than happy with their performance.
“We thought it might take more time before we were able to reach where we are now,” said Tse, a doubles specialist who also qualified for the Rio Games with Poon Lok-yan in women’s doubles.
“It’s a good start but we still need more international exposure. It takes time and we are learning. Hopefully we can improve our ranking as we take part in more international competitions to gain more exposure.”
“I am really disappointed with the result today because I could not control the game,” said the Spaniard. “I will now go back to my home to heal my injuries and prepare for the year end superseries finals in Dubai. My target is to win the last title of the year.”
Despite being crowned the Rio Olympic champion in the summer, Marin has failed to live up to the lofty expectations one would expect from the world’s highest ranked player. She has not been to reach a final in the 12-round superseries all year.
“It  was a long season and I am very tired because there were so many tournaments this year,” she said. “I did not win any superseries but I am still happy because I won the most important tournament in Rio.”
For Tai, it will be her fourth superseries final of the year despite a disappointing Rio Games campaign where she was eliminated by Sindhu of India in the round of 16. The 22 year-old won the Indonesia Open in June but lost two other finals in Malaysia and Denmark respectively.
Although she beat the Olympic champion twice in two weeks, Tai said it won’t be easy to predict the outcome should they meet again.
“Marin is always a difficult opponent to play against. She is tall and her game is fast and powerful,” said Tai. “She has made great improvement from last week and I have never expected anything easy against her as it turned to be a really hard game.
“I spent most of the time trailing behind her in the second and third game but the crowd lifted me and pushed me to victory.”