Table tennis: Singapore Smash returns with top players from March 7-19
After a successful debut in March, the World Table Tennis (WTT) Grand Smash promises to be bigger and better, starting with the second edition of the Singapore Smash in 2023.
WTT director Steve Dainton revealed there will be more than one Grand Smash next season, with China lined up as soon as its strict Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, as well as a European venue, with a fourth destination set for 2024.
He said: "We grew and developed World Table Tennis from Singapore, so we really consider it kind of a home of table tennis. It is such a modern and vibrant city in Asia, which is our biggest market. To continue on from here is an extremely important step for table tennis."
At the Singapore Smash 2023 launch at the ArtScience Museum on Tuesday, it was announced that the competition featuring more than 200 players will be expanded - the mixed doubles draw will increase from 16 pairs to 24.
The 2023 Singapore Smash from March 11 to 19 will feature 64 entries for both the men's and women's singles, and 24 entries each for the men's, women's and mixed doubles categories. A singles qualifying competition featuring a further 64 men and 64 women will be held from March 7 to 9.
Other tweaks include the increase in the number of seeds in the singles competitions from eight to 16 players, which means the top 16 will not be drawn against one another in first round matches, giving fans the opportunity to see more of the world's best players in the later rounds.
Off the tables, spectators will be able to enjoy live acts and entertainment performances with the introduction of the Singapore Smash precinct.
Discussions are ongoing to finalise the venue and ticket prices, but fans may sign up for a WTT Fan account on its app and worldtabletennis.com to stay updated for more information. The tournament was held at the OCBC Arena in 2022 and entry fees started from $10 for qualifying matches and $18 for the main draw.
WTT event strategy director Stephen Duckitt revealed that overall main-draw attendance at the last edition, under stricter Covid-19 protocols, was 11,000 and it is aiming to reach 50,000 in 2023.
He also shared that the first Singapore Smash reached 160 million unique viewers, with a cumulative reach of more than 400 million across 196 markets - figures that are comparable to the World Championships, which gives WTT belief that the Grand Smash model is the way forward in terms of promoting its premium products.
While Dainton was unable to confirm the player line-up, he was confident its star players - including defending men's and women's singles champion Fan Zhendong and Chen Meng - will return.
The event was a hit with players and fans alike with its unprecedented US$2 million (S$2.8 million) prize purse, organisation and theatre ambience at its unique Infinity Arena. China's 2019 world champion Liu Shiwen told The Straits Times then: "It's good to move with the times and glam up the sport, as well as increase the prize money.
"It's great that the organisers are thinking of ways to expand table tennis and attract more people to be more interested about the sport. Hopefully, one day it can reach the heights of some other professional sports like tennis in all aspects."
Singapore players Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh stunned 2019 World Championships silver medallists Ovidiu Ionescu and Alvaro Robles to make the Singapore Smash quarter-finals in 2022.
Chew said: "It's always wonderful to be able to play in front of your family and friends. To have their support and hear their cheers provides that extra boost for all of us, and we can't wait to experience that again."
National teammate Wong Xin Ru, who won gold at the SEA and Commonwealth Games, said she was inspired just rubbing shoulder with table tennis greats. She added: "Getting to play against the world's best and experiencing the atmosphere at an event of this stature prepared me well for my later competitions and major Games."