Taking on One of the World’s Best at WTT Singapore Smash

Lily Zhang reflects on the recent WTT Singapore Smash

The WTT Singapore Smash event recently concluded. Team JOOLA’s Lily Zhang took some time to look back on the momentous event.

This was the second leg of my trip, having recently competed at the WTT Star Contender event in Goa, India. I was in Singapore for 3-4 days between the two events. I was fortunate to be able to practice with the Singapore National Team.

The training was very intense, at times I felt like they were training even harder than the Chinese. It was very humid and I came quite close to passing out after the first session. There were definitely some major environmental adjustments to be made.

I loved the atmosphere in the training hall. Here in the US table tennis can feel very individual focused, lots of one on one training and we are spread all across the country. Here I definitely felt the team spirit of the hosts. Everyone has common goals and a sense of working together.

After the days of practice I felt like I had prepared well for the upcoming Grand Smash. This is the pinnacle of the WTT calendar and the level of competition features the majority of the world’s top players.

I drew Mima Ito in my opening match in the Round of 64. This is definitely a tough draw considering our world rankings. She is one of the world’s best players, having been ranked as high as number 2 in the world!

I was able to practice with Liu Yangzi from Australia, she has short pimple rubber on her backhand. This kind of preparation is important when you are playing someone with a different style.

I also practiced before the match with my teammate and doubles partner Amy Wang. Overall in my days between India and this first match at WTT Singapore Smash I felt I had a solid preparation for this match.

The only thing I was missing was preparing myself for the wave of nerves that hit me when I stepped out into the main court in the Infinity Arena. When I walked out onto that big center court with all the lights and grandeur I mentally blacked out a little, it definitely added to the pressure.   

This had a pretty big impact on my start in the match. I didn’t feel like I was present enough in the moment with the focus I needed. She was right there from the very start. While I was trying to find my feet, she took a strong advantage with her serve game. This immediately took a lot of pressure off her.

I found the spin really difficult to read initially and was trying hard to track her racket and contact on the ball. Towards the middle of the second game, and definitely into the third – I started watching the ball more. I took a little more time to wait and read the bounce better and this helped me a lot.

I felt ok in the rallies, especially as the match progressed, but I had already lost crucial ground in the first two games. These matches are only best of 5 games. There is no room for a slow start in a best of 5, you have to hit the ground running.

I was able to make some adjustments in the third game, reading the serve better and also getting in closer to the table. I had expected a bit more speed and power from her backhand pips side, but moved in closer in the rallies when I realized the ball was slower than I expected. This may have been a combination of conditions and the rubber together.

I felt my game plan was sound and I stuck to it throughout the match. I was able to fight back to win the third game, and held my own in the fourth. The biggest factor for me was serve and receive. I definitely felt this was the biggest level gap between us.

Mima Ito has an incredible ability to vary her serve and her receive. She has so many different weapons to use on serve return.

This was a key element in the match. While I was able to adjust and read the spin better on her serve, I wasn’t able to do anything too significant with my receive. Eventually she was able to get on top of that and maintain her advantage. In the meantime, she stepped up her receiving variations. Everyone knows she has a fairly deadly strawberry receive, among many other formidable variations.

While it was definitely a rough draw to start off with in the Round of 64 and I always hope to push further and higher in the draw, playing Mima Ito is a rare and valuable experience.

Facing off against a player of her caliber in one of the grandest arenas in the sport, on center court – is a privilege. The WTT Singapore Smash is really quite an experience overall.

Now it’s back home to the US with more things to work on ahead of my next international events!

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