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Golden Girl: Ho Ka-po talks about life at the top of junior squash

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The current No. 1 on the women’s World Junior Circuit Ranking, HO KA-PO talks to SportAsia about her recent success, including victory in this year’s Asian Junior Championship and leading Hong Kong to bronze in the World Junior Team Championships.

 

By SportAsia

 

Ho Ka-po made history in early August when she became the first Hong Kong player to top the WSF World Junior Circuit Ranking. It was reward for an impressive series of results including winning the Asian Junior Championship in Jordan in June and leading Hong Kong to bronze in the World Junior Team Championships in Poland a month later.

 

Despite the lofty ranking, the 18-year-old readily concedes she’s not at the same level as the likes of 17-year-old Nour El Sherbini, who in July won her third World Junior Championships individual title – she won her first when she was 13 – and is currently 11th on the women’s WSA World Rankings.

 

Ho and

Hong Kong Junior Open champions Ho Ka-po and Yeung Ho-wai with David Mui, Chairman of Hong Kong Squash and President of Asian Squash Federation.

However, Ho happily took the new ranking in her stride, successfully retaining her Hong Kong Junior Open title just days after receiving the news, beating international teammate Ho Tze-lok in the final.

 

Ho, who went to school at Jockey Club Ti-I College, has been winning titles home and abroad since her early teens, such as the Dutch Junior Open’s U-15 title in 2008 when she was only 13.

 

In 2011, she won the U-17 category at the Asian Junior Championship in Jordan and her first Hong Kong Junior Sports Stars Award for squash, and has since established herself as one of the continent’s top youngsters.

 

Ho had a breakthrough month in June 2012, winning the Penang Junior Open in Malaysia and then reaching the U-19 final of the Asian Junior Championship in Iran, losing to India’s Anaka Alankamony. In August, Ho won her first Hong Kong Junior Open title, beating top seed Lee Ka-yi 3-0 in the final and went on to win the Junior Sports Stars Award for a second successive year.

 

Ho, currently studying hotel management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, has built on her reputation this year. In June, she successfully defended her Penang Junior Open title before recording the biggest victory of her career at the Asian Junior Championship in Jordan, beating Alankamony in the final.

 

The following month, Ho reached the fourth round of the World Junior Championships in Poland before leading Hong Kong to bronze in the team event. After Ho Tze-lok secured a brave 3-2 victory, Ho memorably came back from 2-0 down to beat England No. 1 Victoria Temple-Murray 3-2 and secure third place, much to the delight of her teammates and coaches including Rebecca Chiu, the former Hong Kong number one and 2002 Asian Games gold medallist.

 

“One very good thing about her character is she never gives up. Like when she was 2-0 down, she really fought hard for every point and kept her focus. She was also good as the captain, giving the team good confidence and spirit,” said Chiu, who started coaching her early last year.

 

“After I became a coach, she joined my group and  already had very good potential. She’s quite tall and her coordination and ball sense are quite good. I think she just needs to improve her fitness and get more power in her muscles. She’s already getting better with this and maybe that has helped her improve.”

 

Interview with HO KA-PO

 

You found out you were No. 1 on the World Junior Circuit Ranking for August just before the Hong Kong Junior Open. How did that feel and did you attract more attention?

Actually, I was a bit surprised. It’s a very good feeling to be ranked the number one junior. I guess it’s because my points are higher than some Egyptian girls, like Nour El Sherbini, so I feel very lucky. My friends all congratulated me because I’m the first Hong Kong girl to become World No. 1 Junior, so they’re very proud of me. There were so many comments and ‘Likes’ on my Facebook.

 

Ho beat Ho Tze-lok in the 2013 Hong Kong Junior Open final. Photo: Hong Kong Squash.

Ho beat Ho Tze-lok in the 2013 Hong Kong Junior Open final. Photo: Hong Kong Squash.

At the tournament (Hong Kong Junior Open), there were more sports reporters approaching me after it was announced. I really feel grateful that I can share my experience with others and it seems that my effort has been recognised, although I still have a lot of room for improvement. I’ll keep trying harder and harder in the future and hopefully I can keep up the good work.

 

How difficult was it to win the Hong Kong Junior Open for a second time after your new ranking?

My opponent in the final was Ho Tze-lok, who was a reliable teammate in the World Junior Team Championships in Poland (in July). She always has a very good game plan and good skills, so I didn’t expect an easy game with her.

 

As this was my last junior event, I treasured the opportunity and kept my concentration to win the title for the second time (12-10, 11-7, 11-9). After my birthday in October, I will be competing as a senior player.

 

Can you talk about your experience of captaining Hong Kong at the World Junior Team Championships in Poland in July, including your comeback from 2-0 down against Victoria Temple-Murray to beat England for the bronze?

At that moment, I was just thinking about how I didn’t want to let down my teammates and my coaches because they were all cheering outside the court and supporting me. I just fought back, tried my best and finally I got the result. I knew she had also been 2-0 up against the USA (in the semi-finals) and lost 3-2 and the game lasted for an hour, so she was very tired.

 

Ho's 3-2 win helped Hong Kong beat England for bronze in the 2013 World Team Junior Championship.

Ho’s 3-2 win helped Hong Kong win bronze in the 2013 World Junior Team Championship. Photo: NaSquasha.pl.

I was very proud of the result, because originally Hong Kong were seeded fourth, so we finished one rank higher to get the bronze medal.

 

I was the captain because 
I was the oldest and have played the most, as it was my third time playing in the World Junior Championships. I guess I have some confidence in leading and coordinating with my teammates because we’re very good friends.

 

What do you think is your most important achievement so far?

Winning this year’s Asian Junior Championship in Jordan because I won the final against Anaka [Alankamony] from India. She’s a very good player and very nice, and she has beaten me so many times – at least six or seven – so it was nice to beat her this time.

 

I won 3-0, but the scores in the games were very close (11-9, 12-10, 12-10), so I was lucky because it was a very tough game. I talked to myself and said this was my last Asian Junior Championship so I needed to fight for every point and not give up.

 

What’s your daily routine?

I am studying hotel management at PolyU (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) and practise at the Hong Kong Sports Institute in Fo Tan five to six times a week, each time for two hours. Since my practice usually starts at 4.30pm, after two hours, I cool down and go back home to have my dinner. I’ll then start studying and spend any spare time watching TV.

 

When did you start playing squash?

I joined a mini-squash program in primary school when I was eight or nine, and then kept playing, eventually changing from the pink ball to the black ball. I can’t really remember my first tournament win, but I think I got second or third in an under-11 event. I think Hong Kong does well in international squash 
because of the mini-squash programme. Primary schools cooperate with the government in order to promote squash, so there’s good interest.

 

Ho with 'little' sister Ka-wing, 14.

Ho with ‘little’ sister Ka-wing, 14.

What did your family and friends think about you becoming a squash player?

My parents knew about squash and were very supportive, although they had never played squash and didn’t really play sports. Not many of my friends knew about squash. Some would see my racquet and not know what sport it was.

 

Now, my sister Ka-wing also plays. She’s 14. When I was 14, I had more opportunities to go outside and play in other competitions and tournaments, so she has played a bit less than I had at that age.

 

Which Hong Kong players inspired you?

Rebecca Chiu and then Annie Au were my role models growing up. I remember seeing a picture of Rebecca winning the 2002 Asian Games (in Busan, Korea) after she had beaten Nicol David in the final. Often, they would give advice on tactics when I was playing games or talk about the game pattern. Sometimes they would just talk to me and give tips.

 

Which international players do you admire?

Ramy Ashour! You just can’t imagine how good his shots are, how he hits the nick so often. His fitness is very good. Most Egyptian players are very fit and they have so much strength in the court.

 

In the women’s, I like Nicol David. She has been the World No. 1 for seven years. I have watched her in the Hong Kong Open a few times. She’s an inspiration because at junior level, Egyptians win all the tournaments and Asian players can’t compete with them. However, she has done a very good job to keep the top ranking for so long, which gives us hope.

 

What do you think you need to do for your squash game to improve?

First of all, I need to improve my fitness and then my strength. I don’t think I have enough power in the game and often I begin to feel tired in the third or fourth game. If my opponent is tough then towards the end of the match I can tire and lose.

 

I don’t think I’m competitive, but when every match starts I tell myself that I need to do my best and not to worry about the result. It’s very difficult if you tell yourself you must win and then you don’t play so well. I don’t put too much pressure on myself.

 

The top three women's teams at the World Juniors support squash's 2020 bid. Photo: NaSquasha.pl.

The top three women’s teams at the World Juniors support squash’s 2020 bid. Photo: NaSquasha.pl.

What are your thoughts on squash’s bid to become an Olympic sport for 2020?

If squash got into the Olympics, it would be awesome, as I could participate in it and so could my teammates. I would be 25, so it would be a good opportunity for me.

 

So, will you be a full-time squash player or go into the hotel industry?

I want to be professional player, but not at this moment because my course still has one more year to go, and then I have another two years of study later. So maybe I’ll go full time in a year or two. When I was young, hospitality inspired me, which is why I chose hotel management. I’m really enjoying the course.

 

Ho with her second Hong Kong Junior Sports Star award for squash.

Ho with her second Hong Kong Junior Sports Star award.

HO KA-PO

Sport: Squash

Country: Hong Kong

Residence: Tai Po, Hong Kong

Born: October 27, 1994; Hong Kong

Height: 1.67m

Selected achievements:

World Junior Circuit Ranking – No. 1 (August 2013)

World Junior Team Championships – third 2011, 2013

World Junior Championships – fourth round 2011, 2013; third round 2012

Asian Junior Championship – U-19 winner 2013, runner-up 2012; U-17 winner 2011

Hong Kong Junior Open – winner 2012, 2013

Penang Junior Open – winner 2012, 2013

Hong Kong Junior Sports Star award (squash) – 2011, 2012

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