Ultimate Table Tennis 2018: Manika Batra, Sathiyan G impress in Dabang Smashers' dominant victory over Falcons in title clash
The only team to have beaten the Falcons in the league stage, the Smashers once again got the better of the Falcons as they dominated from start to finish in the final.
The Dabang Smashers were crowned as the deserved champions of the second season of the Ultimate Table Tennis League as they overcame the Falcons TTC by a score of 11-7 at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. The only team to have beaten the Falcons in the league stage, the Smashers once again got the better of the Falcons as they dominated from start to finish in the final.
The Indian duo of Manika Batra and Sathiyan Gnansekaran has been in top form for the Smashers throughout the tournament and they continued with the same vigour in the final as well. Batra gave them a solid start as she overcame Matilda Ekholm in a convincing 3-0 victory to put them on the front foot. Batra has been outstanding for the Smashers as she won against all but one of her foreign opponents at the tournament. Elizabeta Samara of the Maharashtra United is the only player to beat her in this year’s UTT. Batra showed terrific ball-control and self-belief in pressure situations, winning six of the eight golden points.
In the final, she put her side in a commanding position by winning all the three closely-fought games, including one golden point at 9. Sathiyan, meanwhile, applied the finishing touches as he ensured that the tie would not go to the last match overcoming Alvaro Robles by 2-1. Sathiyan had earlier partnered with Sakura Mori to win the mixed doubles match too by beating Sanil Shetty and Bernadette Szocs by 2-1. This mixed doubles pairing of the Smashers has played a key role for them as they have won every single match in this year’s edition.
Sakura Mori, along with other foreign players Yoshida Masaki, Cedric Nuytinck and Adriana Diaz played a superb supporting role. The Japanese duo of Yoshida and Sakura consistently produced good performances for them, while their youngest player Adriana Diaz impressed many. In the final, Yoshida won his match against Sanil Shetty 2-1 while Cedric Nuytinck and Adriana Diaz contributed one game apiece.
In the semi-finals, Diaz was instrumental for the Smashers as she overcame Madhurika Patkar 3-0 of Maharashtra United. Going into the last match, the Smashers were down 8-10 against United and Diaz produced a gritty performance. She won the first two games comfortably to even the tie at 10-10 but in the deciding game, she was down 1-7. The 18-year-old Diaz fought back with aggression as she clinched the game and tie by winning the last game 11-9.
The second semi-final between the Falcons TTC and the RP-SG Mavericks was equally close and was played out in a similar fashion. The Mavericks led 8-10 going into the final game and this time it was Matilda Ekholm who played a vital role in producing a perfect match. She outplayed Ayhika Mukherjee of the Mavericks by winning all the three games quite comfortably. It was the second time in three days that the Mavericks bowed down to Falcons in an exact manner. In the last tie of the group stage, the Mavericks led the Falcons by 8-10 but Matilda was there at hand to win all her games on that occasion too. That time it was Mouma Das who was on the receiving end of Matilda’s onslaught.
Champions in the first season, Falcons were consistent throughout the league, losing out only to the Smashers. Liam Pitchford was their star player as he was unbeaten in the league stage of the tournament. They were let down slightly by the Indian pair of Sanil Shetty and Sutirtha Mukherjee as they managed to win only one of the thirteen matches played amongst them. Their foreign contingent though was very good. Liam Pitchford and Matilda Ekholm led the foreign attack for the Falcons. Ekholm was beaten only by Manika but against all the other opponents she won with a perfect 3-0 scoreline.
It was a disappointing season for the Empowerji Challengers as they finished last by some distance while Warriors TTC clinched the fifth spot in the league table. The Warriors had earlier missed out on a chance to qualify for the knockout rounds. Requiring to beat Maharashtra United in their final tie the Warriors were edged out narrowly by 10-11.
The season two of UTT has produced more close encounters than the first one. The new format of seven matches instead of nine has put more pressure on the performance of all players as each match now contributes significantly to the final outcome. The season three should be even tenser with the Indian players getting better and closer to their foreign counterparts at a rapid pace.
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