Table tennis: S'pore women out of Grand Smash; coach says they 'exceeded expectations'
All nine of Singapore's female paddlers may have exited the World Table Tennis Singapore Smash 2022 by day four on Monday (March 14), but the performances of their young players have given national women's coach Hao Anlin confidence that their rebuilding efforts are on the right track.
With veteran world No. 9 Feng Tianwei and No. 24 Yu Mengyu close to retirement, players like Lin Ye and Zeng Jian - who are 26 and 25 respectively - are set to step up alongside a younger crop of Singapore-born paddlers.
Hao told The Straits Times that he was satisfied with his charges' performance at the event, saying that they exceeded expectations.
Among the standout performers at the Singapore Smash were world No. 180 Goi Rui Xuan, 21, who stunned Chinese Taipei's 60th-ranked Cheng Hsien-tzu in the women's singles round of 64 before losing to Japan's world No. 6 Hina Hayata in the next round.
"We have learnt a lot of things (like techniques and how to handle nerves), especially because a lot of the world's top players are here so to us, it's a huge gain," said Hao, who has been head coach since 2017.
"We're now facing a period in the national team where the younger generation is stepping up so there's a lot of room for us to help develop them.
"With the players like Lin Ye, Zeng Jian and the younger ones coming up, hopefully they can have more opportunities to play and gain experience and insights so that they can quickly improve."
Day four of the US$2 million (S$2.7 million) tournament saw world No. 71 Zeng up against China's world No. 2 and Olympic singles champion Chen Meng in the women's singles round of 32.
The 25-year-old claimed the first set 11-7 and but eventually the gulf in skills proved too much as Zeng succumbed 3-1 (7-11, 11-3, 11-9, 11-6) to Chen.
She said: "I had to be more aggressive at the start of each point to stand a chance but her abilities are still much stronger than mine.
"Still there was much to learn because she's so good, so whether it's from her techniques or my own skills, I can learn from there and adjust accordingly."
Zeng and Lin Ye had earlier lost to Luxembourg's Ni Xia Lian and Sarah De Nutte 3-0 (11-8, 11-5, 11-7) in the women's doubles, while teammates Goi Rui Xuan and Wong Xin Ru put up a good fight against India's world No. 6 pair Archana Girish Kamath and Manika Batra before losing 3-2 (11-7, 9-11, 11-9, 7-11, 11-5).
Noting that they had made "careless mistakes", Goi said they duo need to work on developing "strengths like a killer shot" against top players.
She added: "We're starting to have more competitions this year so these are good opportunities for us to gain exposure and hopefully we can slowly improve and catch up with the high-level players."
While the Singaporean women are all out of the Singapore Smash, local fans can still watch men's doubles pair Clarence Chew and Ethan Poh in action on Tuesday, as they face China's Fan and Wang Chuqin in the quarter-finals.
It was business as usual for Japan's women's world No. 3 Mima Ito and men's world No. 1 Fan Zhendong of China at the OCBC Arena on Monday as the duo cruised into the next round of their respective events.
Ito beat Chinese Taipei's Chen Szu-Yu 3-1 (11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 12-10) in the round of 32 while Fan recorded a comfortable 3-0 (11-8, 11-6, 13-11) over Japanese Masataka Morizono.
Fan, who won the WTT Cup Finals in Singapore last December, said: "Every competition, I just want to do my best and get the best result. The process can get difficult but I'll just focus on putting up my best fight.
"It feels familiar playing in the same arena and being here brings back good memories from the last time, so I hope to make happy memories again."
Women's doubles world champions Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu of China also made light work of their Taiwanese opponents Liu Hsing-Yin and Cheng Hsien-Tzu in the round of 16, winning the match 3-0 (11-5, 11-7, 11-2) to qualify for the quarter-finals. The world No. 1 pair will face South Korea's eighth-ranked Jeon Ji-hee and Yang Ha-Eun.
The first semi-finalists were decided in the mixed doubles with Taiwanese world No. 1 duo Lin Yun-Ju and Cheng I-Ching comfortably beating India's Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Manika Batra 3-0 (11-8, 11-3, 11-6).
They will play French world No. 2 Emmanuel Lebesson and Yuan Jia Nan, while world champions Wang Chuqin and Sun will meet world No. 6 Wong Chun Ting and Doo Hoi Kem in the other semi-final.