The game of squash may not have actually been invented by a lonely tennis player who couldn’t find anyone to compete against, but this is how Cheng Hao-chen found his way into the sport, six and a half years ago. He played tennis as a child, but none of his friends would play with him.
“I kept hitting the ball against the fence until people showed up and told me to go away. Then I started playing squash because you can play against the walls all by yourself,” the 16-year-old tells Young Post.
Hao-chen, who goes to ISF Academy, now represents Hong Kong on the international stage, and has placed in the top 10 players in his age range at the Asia Championships and US Junior Open, and the top five players at the Hong Kong Junior Open and HKSSF Inter-school Individual Squash Competition.
To be the best, Hao-chen looks up to the best for inspiration: he names his role model as the Egyptian squash player and former world number one Ramy Ashour, who he describes as “the embodiment of sportsmanship and the epitome of a great lad”. He dreams of one day competing on his idol’s home turf. “The most prestigious events and top players are in Egypt. It would be interesting to go there and play with them,” Hao-chen explains.
One of the most high-profile tournaments Hao-chen has competed in so far was last year’s Asian Junior Squash Individual Championships in Iran. The player went into overdrive in the weeks leading up to the tournament, training hard by doing 100 press-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and running 10 kilometres every single day.
The coach was so strict that he would secretly trail the runners in the park to make sure they were really running. That’s not to say it was all stony-faced focus during the championships: Hao-chen recalls one memorable moment in Iran when his coach ordered, “Put your pants on! You’re embarrassing Hong Kong!” Ahem.
In the first round, he defeated one Iranian player, but lost out to another in the second. His teammate Wong King-yeung fared slightly better, but didn’t quite make it to the semi-finals, after losing to the same Iranian player who Hao-chen had lost against.
The Iranian side’s enthusiastically patriotic response rattled Hao-chen slightly. “The Iranian cheerleaders were very loud – they would blow trumpets and bang on gongs. I found it very hard to concentrate, and it was frustrating knowing most of the crowd was against me. Also, when an Iranian won, they would drape a huge Iranian flag over him, and he would lie on the floor of the court celebrating.”
In the classic plate round, Hao-chen beat players from Sri Lanka and Jordan, and finally an Indian player to eventually place ninth.
“I knew that I could have done better; nevertheless, I was proud to come ninth in Asia’s largest tournament,” he reflects. “Winning and improving is rewarding, but I love going abroad for competitions and meeting new people and seeing new places.”
Hao-chen doesn’t have much time outside his sport, which sometimes makes it difficult to hang out with friends or go to parties. But mostly, when he’s not on the court or training in the park, you’ll find him drawing. “I really like drawing. And, though I don’t have much time for it these days, I used to read a lot of comic books and draw comics,” he says, adding, “I also like banter.” So we gathered!
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
Sandstorm by Darude.
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
I would go with the cockroach. Cockroaches are extremely agile and cannot be disposed of easily. And they spread diseases. They have desirable traits which would prove handy in squash.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
Rice, bread, pasta and other forms of carbohydrates. I usually start carbo-loading a week before a tournament.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company are you a spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I would definitely like to promote my school, The ISF Academy, for supporting me in countless ways! I would like to express my gratitude to this school by promoting our food contractor, Sodexo.