In a dramatic climax to the third and final qualifying day of the SHOP.CA WSF Women’s World Team Squash Championship in Canada, fourth seeds Hong Kong China pipped France, the fifth seeds, 2/1 to secure top position in Pool D of the biennial World Squash Federation championship at White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa inNiagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Hong Kong join the top three seeds Egypt, England and Malaysia as pool winners – who will now join France, USA, Australia and Ireland, seeded five to eight, respectively, in the quarter-final play-offs.
France, seeded to secure their highest ever finish in the championship, made a positive start against Hong Kong when top string Camille Serme, the world No.6, beat Annie Au – ranked just three places below – 11-3, 12-10 11-8. Order was quickly restored when Hong Kong number two Joey Chan despatched Coline Aumard 11-8, 11-8, 11-8 to level the tie.
The decider – the first ever meeting between Hong Kong’s world No.46 Liu Tsz-Ling and France’s world No.54 Laura Pomportes – was high in drama, with both players playing as if their lives depended on it.
Pomportes recovered from a game down to build up a 2/1 lead – and soon found herself two points away from a sensational victory at 9-6 in the fourth game.
But Liu (pictured above, in pink, with Pomportes) persevered, winning five points in a row to draw level. The deciding game reached eight-all before the 23-year-old from Hong Kong found extra reserves to close out the match 11-8, 5-11, 3-11, 11-9, 11-8 after 63 minutes.
“The last match was very close,” said Hong Kong team manager Rebecca Chiu, the former world No.13. “I think the only difference between the two players was in the fourth and fifth games when Ling made fewer errors.
“All three matches were close – Camille played really well in the first and Joey fought back well in the second to bring us level. Ling is a young player, who made her first world teams appearance for us two years ago – but she’s much more focussed now.
“The win is good for us as we avoid our Asian rivals Malaysia in the next round – but USA will not be easy!”
The jubilant Liu admitted later: “That was definitely one of the biggest matches I’ve ever played.
“When we got to the fifth game, it was very scary!
“I’ve played a few times for Hong Kong now – but it’s the first time I’ve ever had to play a decider.”
The highlight of the morning session was the battle on the all-glass showcourt between Ireland and New Zealand – the 8th and 9th seeds, respectively – for a place in the top two of Pool A, and a slot in the quarter-final knockout stage.
Madeline Perry, the 14 times Irish champion making her seventh successive appearance in the championship, twice had to come from behind to see off lower-ranked Kiwi Amanda Landers-Murphy 5-11, 11-5, 4-11, 11-2, 11-8 to put eighth seeds ahead.
Rapidly-improving Megan Craig, the 21-year-old world No.45, seemed set to level the tie for New Zealand when she took the opening game against experienced Irish number two Aisling Blake.
But the 33-year-old world No.37 dug deep to fend off the youthful attack to win 9-11, 11-2, 11-8, 11-8 after 48 minutes to ensure a top eight finish for Ireland for the sixth time in a row since 2004.
“She’s one of the up-and-coming players – and all these young players are only going to get better,” said Blake (pictured above, foreground, with Craig) of her opponent later. “I’ve never played her before – she’s lethal in the middle of the court and retrieves very well.
“It was tough – it always is when you play for your country.
“That was always going to be our toughest event – and it was a match we needed to win. Madeline pulled us through in the first match – but Amanda really stepped up her game and that gave us a bit of a scare.
“It is a good feeling to be through to the quarters – I’m really excited. It was also so cool to be playing on the glass court – that’s what all the training is all about.”
England secured their anticipated place at the top of Pool B after defeating long-time rivals Australia 3/0. Squad number two Alison Waters, the world No.5 from London, led the way with a 3/1 win over experienced Australian campaigner Rachael Grinham, the 37-year-old former world number one who made her debut in the championship in 2002.
It was left to England’s championship debutante Sarah-Jane Perry to clinch pole position in the pool when the world No.17 despatched Sarah Cardwell 11-6, 11-4, 11-1.
After England surprisingly dropped a match in the opening tie when team number one Laura Massaro lost rising Welsh star Tesni Evans, event first-timer Emma Beddoes went on to give England their third successive 3/0 win when she beat Australian debutante Christine Nunn 11-1, 11-5, 11-3.
“Our first priority was to top the group and we’ve done that now,” said team coach David Campion later. “When Laura lost on the first day, it was almost what she needed as it’s given her a real focus now. Laura needs an edge and she’s got that now. It actually worked quite well.
“It may be Sarah-Jane and Emma’s first time in the world championship, but they’ve both played for England before and have got extensive experience on the world tour so we’re very confident with them.”
Perry was delighted with her third 3/0 win in Niagara. “Although Emma and I haven’t played in this event before, Ali and Laura have – they’re very experienced – and that gives us confidence. I’ve played the world junior team championships before so that’s been useful experience.
“I just don’t want to let the team down – I need to find that extra gear, especially as some players play out of their skins when they’re representing their country.
“I can be quite harsh on myself when I’m playing on the tour, but when you play for your team you get great support and you get confidence from that.”
Seeded to finish in bronze medal position for the fifth time in a row, Malaysia established themselves firmly at the top of Pool C after a 3/0 win over sixth seeds USA – their fourth 3/0 win in a row.
After world number one Nicol David put the third seeds ahead, beating Olivia Blatchford 11-4, 11-5, 11-4, team-mateLow Wee Wern, the world No.7, sealed victory after a 9-11, 11-9, 11-4, 11-4 win over seasoned campaigner Natalie Grainger, USA’s 37-year-old player/coach.
“Our team has played well to get to the knockout stage – we’re very pleased to have won all our ties 3/0,” said David, the 31-year-old from Penang who made her world team championship debut in 2002 as a 19-year-old. “Whatever happens next, we’ll be ready to go.
“It would mean a lot to win this title – a team event is always very different. I’m never as nervous as I am for a team event – not when I’m playing, but when I’m supporting my team-mates. I have three strong team-mates who train hard and work hard.
“It would be huge back in Malaysia if we won the title. Winning the Thomas Cup in badminton was massive at home – the whole country came to a halt 12 years ago when it happened.
“We’ve never won any other world team title in sport – so winning this would be really special.”
 EGYPT v  AUSTRALIA
 MALAYSIA v  FRANCE
 HONG KONG CHINA v  USA
 ENGLAND v  IRELAND
9th – 16th place play-offs:
 NEW ZEALAND v [13/16] GERMANY
 SOUTH AFRICA v [13/16] MEXICO
 CANADA v [13/16] INDIA
 WALES v [13/16] COLOMBIA