] Carol Owens (Nzl) bt [6] Vanessa Atkinson (Ned)   6/9, 9/7, 9/6, 9/6  (49m)
[4] Cassie Jackman (Eng) bt Nicol David (Mas)  9/6, 9/3, 9/4  (30m)
Fri 12th Dec, Semi-Finals:

World Top Two
To Contest Final

Colin McQuillan reports from Hong Kong

Carol Owens, the top seeded 32-year-old World No1 from New Zealand, battled her way into the final of the Credit Suisse Privilege Women's World Open Championship on a cold open air court beside the Hong Kong harbour tonight, beating Vanessa Atkinson of The Netherlands 6-9 9-7 9-6 9-6 in 49 minutes that she acknowledging afterwards as a scrap rather than a squash match.

She will meet England’s Cassie Jackman, the 30-year-old fourth seeded world number two, who advanced with a good deal more authority 9-7 9-3 9-4 in 29 minutes against the unseeded young Malaysian sensation of the championship, Nicol David.

Jackman showed no sign of the spinal surgery that twice took her out of the game during the past two years, nor the tense inhibition that marred her appearance in the British Open Final in June.

Owens, on the other hand, started in shocking manner:
“I don’t know if I was too relaxed or too tense. I just couldn't get my legs going at first and Vanessa started so well,” Owens said. “It doesn’t get much worse than this.”

It was not until she hit a straight backhand passing shot to the deep court at 2-7 in the second game that the 32-year-old favourite began to get to grips with the confident attack of the sixth seeded Dutch Champion. Simultaneously, Atkinson seemed to fall away from the easy swinging movement and surprising shots that had given her complete control of the rallies to that point.

Owens fought her way back into the semi-final rally by rally, lengthening the exchanges and working the ball away from the areas from which Atkinson had previously been able to produce wrong-footing late boasts or sharp little volley drops.

A run of unhelpful line decisions from the referee, Chris Clark of Hong Kong, discountenanced the sixth seed as she sought to contain the Owens counterattack but, once the New Zealander found a good length with her drives that could open the front court to her usual short attack, it was an uphill struggle for the player who had removed the third seeded British Open Champion, Rachael Grinham, from the quarter-finals.

“Once I found a length on which to base my attack, I felt I was back in the match,” Owens said. “But I was in real trouble at the start. The court was surprisingly cold and maybe that was why my legs were not working so well. But that meant my shots became effective once I got them going.

“It is always good to get a performance like that behind you. Now I can start psyching myself up for the final. It can only get better from here.”

She will need to be better, certainly, if Jackman can again find the sure touch and powerful accuracy with which she drove past the 20-year-old who had embarrassed both the experienced Fiona Geaves and the in-form second seeded Natalie Grainger on the way to the semi-finals.

Of the court specially mounted for the first time on promenade of The Hong Kong Cultural Centre on the edge of Victoria Harbour, Jackman said: “It was cool enough to hold my shots but live enough to take good drives deep into the back. For Nicol, who likes a bit of bounce and lift in the ball to work on, it was a bit of a problem I guess. It suited me perfectly.”

It will be Jackman’s fourth World Open final. She defeated Michelle Martin to take the title in Seattle in 1999, but lost to the same player in Guernsey in 1994 and to Sarah Fitz-Gerald in Kuala Lumpur in 1996. “I am just so happy to be here again. When I was lying in bed for six weeks after back surgery last year, I seriously doubted I could ever do this again.”

A crushed spinal disc forced Jackman out of the game and into surgery twice in the past two years. She has regained World No2 status this month after reaching the British Open Final in Nottingham and defeating Owens to take the US Open Championship in New York.

David acknowledged that she was simply outplayed in this semi-final. “Cassie is so experienced on these courts and was so strong in her play tonight that I was always playing to her tactics,” she said. “I am just so pleased to have done so well in this tournament and I have learnt so much from being here, especially from that match with Cassie, that even losing seems like a bonus.”



Owens battles past Atkinson



Cassie too strong for Nicol



The court & the Harbour


"Normally you take people to the sport. But this time we have brought squash to the people. This is the first time that we have played a tournament outdoors and I think it is well worth all the trouble and time that went into the planning."

"We have had this idea for a long time. But for it to happen, we needed a world-class event and support from the government. We got both this time. The Relaunch Hong Kong campaign saw us get help from the government."

Hong Kong Squash chairman
David Mui Ying-yuen

Rebecca Chiu and her fan club!

Legendary Jahangir Khan, president of the World Squash Federation and a guest this week, will feature in a doubles exhibition match before the final today. Jahangir, a 10-time British Open champion and six-time World champion, will partner Hong Kong's Rebecca Chiu.