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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Ultimate Table Tennis league 2018: Pune set to host table tennis’ best from June 14

The competition will kick off with Maharashtra United going head-to-head with the Falcons on June 14 at the Shiv Chhatrapathi sports complex in Balewadi.

pune Updated: Jun 12, 2018 16:54 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Pune
(From left) Sachin Shetty , Manika Batra, Sanjish Ambekar, Sathiyan Gnanaskearan and Saumya Khaitan at the team reveal of Dabang Smashers table tennis club for the Ultimate Table Tennis league at Balewadi on Monday.
(From left) Sachin Shetty , Manika Batra, Sanjish Ambekar, Sathiyan Gnanaskearan and Saumya Khaitan at the team reveal of Dabang Smashers table tennis club for the Ultimate Table Tennis league at Balewadi on Monday.(HT PHOTO)
         

The 2018 edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league is all set to begin from Pune on June 14 at the Shiv Chhatrapathi sports complex in Balewadi. The international tournament will feature some of the world’s best players on Indian soil as they battle it out to go home the winner. The Pune leg of the competition will go on till June 19 after which the competition will take place in Delhi (June 20 to 25) followed by Kolkata (June 26 to July 1). The league consists of six teams: Dabang Smashers; Falcons; Maharashtra United; RP-SG Mavericks; Warriors; and Empowerji Challengers. Each team consists of three men and three women players.

The competition will kick off with Maharashtra United going head-to-head with the Falcons.

Leading from the front

India’s highest world ranked men’s player, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, will lead Dabang Smashers Table Tennis Club (TTC), the franchise owned by DoIT Sports Management, from the front in the second edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis League at Balewadi from June 14. 

The team, which finished third in the first edition, is all set to take the 2018 season by storm, with a new strong line-up. Sathiyan will captain a side that boasts big names, including Manika Batra, India’s highest ranked women’s player, and the Japanese duo, Yoshida Masaki and Sakura Mori. Among the young players are Archana Kamath and Sanish Ambekar from India, and Adriana Diaz from Puerto Rico. There is also some Belgian flair in the side with Cedric Nuytinck, who’s ranked at the top spot in his country, joining the team. The team will be coached by Sachin Shetty and Andrei Filimon, a Romanian. The duo boast of a rich coaching experience at the national and international level. 

Talking about his leadership role with the Smashers, Sathiyan said, “I’m really looking forward to this season and my role as the captain. We’re confident that we can challenge for the title this year and have the player strength to do so. We’re all pumped up to rise above all expectations this year.” 

“Sathiyan has got the right kind of experience and he’s the best in the country at the moment, so he was the obvious choice for us when picking a captain for the side,” said Saumya Khaitan, chief executive officer of Dabang Smashers TTC.

Gnanasekaran’s close connection with Pune 

Sathiyan Gnanasekaran started his international career from Pune when he won a gold medal in the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008. The Chennai paddler feels that Pune has been a lucky charm for him and he wanted to give the luck to his team in the Ultimate Table Tennis League. 

“Pune has always been my favourite city. It all started here, when I won a medal in CYG. Coming back here at the same venue is very nostalgic and I will give my best in the league,” he said. 

The league has attracted several players from across the world, except China and Korea. Talking about it, Sathiyan said, “Chinese and Korean players don’t participate in any international league. It’s their federation decision and we don’t know the reason. They have their own leagues in China and Korea and they are quite challenging. But across the rest of the world, UTT is getting popular and several European players asked me the details and dates of the tournament. In recent future, UTT will grow bigger for sure.”

Manika Batra locks on to Asian Games

CWG medallist and India table tennis No 1 plays a friendly match after the team reveal of Dabang Smashers Table Tennis Club for Ultimate Table Tennis League, at Balewadi on Monday.
CWG medallist and India table tennis No 1 plays a friendly match after the team reveal of Dabang Smashers Table Tennis Club for Ultimate Table Tennis League, at Balewadi on Monday. ( HT PHOTO )

After a magnificent performance at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) at Gold Coast, Australia, the India table tennis No 1 Manika Batra is gearing up for her next big challenge. The 22-year-old has already started preparing for the Asian Games to be held in Jakarta, Indonesia, from August 18. 

“Asian Games will be quite tough compared to Commonwealth Games as table tennis giants China, Korea and Japan will be there as tight competition. With boosted confidence from the CWG performance, we will try to beat them. I won’t say that we will win medals in Asian Games, but we will give it our best shot, that’s for sure,” said the Delhi-based paddler. 

Manika came into limelight when she scripted a huge upset win against world No 4 Tianwei Feng and later, knocked out Yihan Zhou in four games. Her performance helped India beat the mighty Singapore team and win a gold medal in the women’s team event. Manika repeated her performance and beat Tianwei Feng again to enter the women’s singles’ final. In the summit clash, Manika bagged the women’s singles gold medal, beating higher-ranked opponent Mengyu Yu. 

Her partnership with Mouma Das fetched India the silver medal in the women’s doubles event and to add another feather on her cap, she also won the bronze medal with Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, India’s top world ranked paddler. 

Her performance streak became a sensation in the Indian table tennis circuit and Manika received a celebrity status. When asked about it, she said, “Actually, I am enjoying it. I don’t feel any pressure. I always wanted to be this way. This is not for me, the celebrity status and glamour is popularising the sport, which is a good sign.”

Players to watch

 Aruna Quadri: The Nigerian world No 20 is an African Champion and one of the best offensive players in the continent. He won the Polish Open in 2017 and was part of Yoddhas’s team in the inaugural season of UTT. He garnered a total of 198 points for his team. 

Polcanova Sofia: The Austrian player is ranked 20 in the world and has been a part of Olympic Games 2012 and 2016. In 2016 Olympics, she stood fifth in the team event. She was runner-up in the Zagreb Open 2017, third place in the German Open 2014, fifth Place in European Top-16 2016. She is also a three- time U-21 World Tour winner. 

Manika Batra: The 22-year-old is top-ranked in India and is 58th in the World. In the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in 2018, she returned with four medals, including women’s team and women’s singles gold and silver in women’s doubles and bronze in mixed doubles. 

Sharath Kamal: The Indian maestro, Sharath Kamal has been playing table tennis since the age of four. With 32 years of experience, he is the most experienced player in India. His career high has been bagging the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and 2010. His highest World Ranking, till date, has been No 32. He is currently World Rank No 47.