American number one shuttler Zhang Beiwen described coming across black-clad protesters as a "video game" after she witnessed property set on fire while walking on her way to the Coliseum in Hung Hom for the Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open.
Zhang, who chose not to stay at the official hotel near the Coliseum because of financial reasons, has to walk 15 minutes to get to the venue from her hotel located along Austin Road.
"I have travelled on tour for many years and this is the most serious incident I have ever come across," said Zhang, who lost her women's singles semi-final to Chen Yufei, of China, 21-18, 14-21, 21-15 on Saturday. "The fires were so terrible while the protesters in full gear look like those found in video games. It was quite scary."
Zhang said staying at The Metropolis, the official hotel, would cost her US$180 per day, which far exceeded her budget. She could not afford staying there without any financial support from governing bodies and opted for the nearby Goh Liu-Ying of Malaysia.
The vicinity near the Coliseum has been hit hard by protests and has been one of the most seriously affected areas in the city in recent days.
Protesters have occupied the footbridge connecting City University and Hung Hom Station, throwing objects on to Hong Chong Road to block traffic. Some masked protesters also burned the Cross Harbour Tunnel tolls in an attempt to shut down the tunnel, which has not been in operation for four days.
Organisers provide shuttle bus services from The Metropolis to the venue despite a walking distance of only five minutes and athletes are usually accompanied by security guards. It is believed more than 20 security personnel have been hired to protect teams while plain-clothes police have been assigned inside the venue.
With the social unrest escalating for days, gate attendance for the annual showpiece has also been hit as many fans were unable to reach the venue due to the severe transport problems. On Friday night, a crowd of just 1,800 turned up, a few hundred less than last year. Organisers said ticket holders can get a full refund if they cannot attend the event.
Meanwhile, Lee Cheuk-yiu became the second home player to reach the men's singles final at the Hong Kong Open after saving five game points in the second game to beat Srikanth Kidambi of India. World number 27 Lee, who was the 2017 New Zealand Open champion, overcame former world number one 21-9, 25-23 in an engaging 42-minute battle.
Angus Ng Ka-long, who lost in the opening round on Wednesday, is the first home player to lift the men's title at the 2016 Hong Kong Open. "The second game was important as I came back from 20-15 down to win the match," said Lee. "Now I won't think too much about the final and I'll just relax like the way I did today and hopefully the result will come."
Lee will play an Indonesian opponent in Sunday's final - either sixth seed Jonatan Christie or Anthony Ginting, the eighth seed, who are playing in the other semi-final.
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