Max Lee Ho-yin continues his journey into the unknown at the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Squash Open on Saturday evening, the first local player to make the semi-finals of the tournament and one whose heroics on Friday almost raised the roof at the Hong Kong Park Sports Centre.
The tournament has never quite witnessed scenes like it, as Lee emerged victorious from his gruelling quarter-final clash with Egypt’s Fares Dessouky with his arms aloft and his legend secured.
It wasn’t always pretty. Dessouky at times turned to pure physicality as he tried to wrest momentum from his opponent, specifically in the third game when the 21-year-old Egyptian could see the contest slipping away.
But Lee rode the bumps, and seemed to grow in stature with each challenge as he went on to record the 11-6, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8 victory at an event he has played 12 times before this campaign, without ever going further than the first round.
Lee now faces former world number one and two-time Hong Kong Open champion Ramy Ashour of Egypt at 5pm. There’s no doubt it will be standing room only, and that’s just what the 28-year-old wants.
“I could feel the crowd,” said Lee after his quarter-final triumph. “The atmosphere was great. Oh my god, it was amazing. I have lots of good friends supporting me. I am just very happy.”
The enigmatic Ashour – blessed with the innate ability to make this frantic sport seem somehow effortless – has been rebuilding his career after a series of injuries and has improved as the days pass.
But it’s so far been a tournament full of surprises, with the men’s draw having only one seeded player left – Egypt’s Karim Abdel Gawad (seeded seven), who will meet Australian Ryan Cuskelly, world ranked 16, in the other semi-final at 3.30pm. So who knows when the Max Lee fairy tale might end.
The women’s side of the event has come full of intrigue of its own – if, admittedly, a little less of the high drama (and the body checks).
On one side we have the world number one – Egypt’s 20-year-old sensation Nour El Sherbini – up against the most talented player to ever emerge from America, the eighth-ranked Amanda Sobhy. That clash is set for 2.30pm.
Then – at 4.15pm – comes Nicol David of Malaysia, winner of the last 10 editions here and a bone fide superstar, against another of Egypt’s rising talents in world junior champion Nouran Gohar.
The 19-year-old only just picked up that crown – her second – two weeks ago in Poland. Gohar survived a marathon 3-2 win over world number two Laura Massaro of England on Friday and said her confidence was growing with each outing in the senior ranks as she looks to end the 33-year-old David’s sensational run in Hong Kong.
“My attacking has been sharp,” said Gohar. “It’s amazing. I’ve just finished the world junior championship so to forget about it and concentrate on this tournament has been very hard. But I am glad I have played well here. It’s always a pleasure [to play seniors] and it’s challenging and it’s good.”