Lincou Claims First Hong Kong Open Title
5 Sep 2004
Thierry Lincou, the Franco-Chinese world No3 who first broke into the top flight of the professional game reaching the final of the 2001 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open - but uniquely achieved a world No1 ranking earlier this year without actually winning a major title - today squared the circle of his squash destiny by winning the 2004 Hong Kong title with a 51-minute 11-4 11-8 11-10 victory over England's eighth seed Nick Matthew.
It was the 22nd time that 28-year-old Lincou had stepped into a PSA World Tour final but the first time he walked out as winner of a Super Series ranking event final. He has won tournaments, of course; the first in the 1996 Tirolean Championships in Austria and the latest in this year's non-ranking Super Series Finals in London. But this was the moment he had pursued almost since first becoming a local hero in Hong Kong in 2001 when he removed the defending champion Peter Nicol on his way to the final.
"I am just so pleased that I have taken my first Super Series title at last and that it has happened in front of a Chinese audience in Hong Kong," said Lincou. "I always feel welcome here and the spectators always give me such good support. I feel I have won this for them as much as for myself.
"I have wanted for a long time to go back to the village near Canton in China where my grandparents lived before they left for Reunion Island during the Communist revolution. My mother Luk Lan-sun has been back but this is as close as I have managed so far."
The conversion of the PSA World Tour from 15 point games to 11 point games started with this Hong Kong Open and was perhaps the key to Lincou's long awaited breakthrough. He took the Super Series Finals title last May, when the new scoring was being trialled, and changed his training to concentrate his established tight rallying and sharp front court attack into a formidable sustained pressure on his opponents. "You can officially say that I like the new scoring," he said with a smile today.
He defeated Australia's sharp shooting Paul Price, Egypt's World Open Champion Amr Shabana and England's world No2 Lee Beachill before shutting the fast-rising Matthew out of the final. "He just didn't let me in until quite late in the third game," explained the 24-year-old Sheffield-based player.
"I have to be pretty pleased with my tournament here. It has taken me in among the top flight players and into my first Super Series final. But I have beaten Thierry in the past and I was hoping for the ultimate success today. He just played too well for that to happen."
In the final, Lincou wrong-footed Matthew three times in a row to lead 3-1, then forced his way to 10-2 in a single hand in which every point was won with a different clinical winner as the culmination of crisp and carefully shaped rallies.
Matthew entered the second game more ambitiously, but his attempts to wrest the initiative from his opponent ended too often in tinned errors as he snatched at the Frenchman's fearsome distribution. He stayed in the race to 8-8, partly thanks to three generous penalty strokes - but three unforced forehand errors gave the 15-minute game to Lincou.
With legs tiring and speed dropping, the third game was a closer affair altogether, with Matthew looking capable of carrying the match into at least a fourth game as he led 6-5 with a confident backhand return of service straight down the top right-hand nick. But another tinned error and another penalty stroke for racket swing interference stopped his advance and, within seconds, the Englishman was 7-9 down.
To his credit Matthew resisted a first match-ball at 8-10 with a fine long forehand drop to the top right corner and took the game into a tiebreak with a floating backhand boast that left even the fasted-footed Frenchman groping for a contact on the ball. But he hit a forehand out of court to allow a second match-ball and gave away a last penalty stroke to bring on a third match-ball before watching the championship fall inevitably to Thierry Lincou as a forehand crosscourt drive passed him by on its way to the deep left corner.