Since 1985, when world-famous airline Cathay Pacific first sponsored the Hong Kong Squash Open, the international event has regularly attracted the world’s very best players.
But this week’s 27th edition of the Cathay Pacific Sun Hung Kai Financial Hong Kong Open - which will reach its climax with semi-finals and finals staged on an all-glass show court erected at the Cultural Centre on the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui - takes on additional significance as the event chosen by the International Olympic Committee to judge the sport’s credentials to join the Olympic Games programme in 2020.
The men’s championship will be led by world number one James Willstrop, the defending champion from England, and features 19 of the world’s top 20, including six former world number ones – while the women’s field will be led by Malaysian superstar Nicol David, the world number one since August 2006 who is expected to win the title for a record eighth time in a row since 2005.
“The Hong Kong Open is an event that Squash cherishes and we are delighted that the IOC have chosen to come to it to evaluate our sport,” said World Squash Federation President N Ramachandran. “It shows off so much of the essence of professional squash and what we mean by the ability to showcase host cities.
“We look forward to them seeing this for themselves, along with the strong international broadcast output, first class sports presentation – and some great squash matches too!”
Men’s title-holder James Willstrop is also pleased that the IOC chose Hong Kong: “It’s a wonderful backdrop for the IOC delegates to see – there are few that could be more exciting and spectacular as this Hong Kong location. As a player, when you’re on the court and peer through the glass walls, it’s a staggering view.
“It’s unbelievable how far we’ve come as a sport in such a short time.”
Distinguished Egyptian Amr Shabana, the former world No1 and four-time world champion who is making a record 16th appearance in the event and has his sights on a sixth Hong Kong title, added: “Having the IOC come to Hong Kong will show them what a great experience it is, watching the world’s best squash. Squash players are some of the strongest, if not THE strongest, athletes in this world.”
Borja Golan, the top-ranked Spaniard, said: “As a sport, squash is one of the most complete ones: physically you need to have resistance, power, speed, balance and reflexes. Mentally you have to be so focussed all the time – and we can compare every match with a gladiator fight because only the strongest will win.
The Australian number one Cameron Pilley pointed out: “The Hong Kong Open is one of the longest running and biggest events on Tour, not only for prize money but because of the history behind it.
“The full glass court down on the harbour is an amazing venue with a great backdrop.”