India's ace paddler Sharath Kamal will don the Yodhas jersey in the second edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis after being picked by the franchise in the players draft that took place at the NSCI in Mumbai. Sharath was with RP-SG Maverics which finished last in the inaugural season. Simon Gauzy of France, the highest ranked player (World No 8) in the league was roped in by Challengers.
A total of 46 players, including 25 Olympians of 19 different nationalities were drafted into six different franchises. Aruna Quadri, Joao Monteiro, Kou Lei, Liam Pitchford, Tiago Apolonia, Doo Hoi Kem, Lee Ho Ching, Sabine Winter and Sofia Polcanova were the top stars returning for the second edition of the league.
Each franchise had the option to retain one player from last season and surprisingly just two franchises opted for retention —Dabang Smashers and Falcons TTC. Smashers had retained Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, India's top-ranked player in the world (49) while defending champions went for their last-season hero, Mumbai's Sanil Shetty.
Each franchise had to pick four foreign players from a pool of 24 (two men and women each) and four Indian players from a pool of 28 (one men's senior, one men's youth, one women senior and one women youth).
The foreign women players were in demand in the first two rounds with seven of them drafted in out of 10. World No 11 Doo Hoi Kem was roped in by RP-SG Mavericks while Challengers who got the first pick of the day selected world No 13 Lee Ho Ching. It was all about the foreign players in the first two rounds.
It was in round three that the franchises started picking up Indian players. Challengers started off round three picking up Gauzy before Yodhas roped in the Sharath, the eight-time national champion and triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
Harmeet Desai, the third highest ranked men's Indian player in the world (66) will play for RP-SG Maverics while India's top-ranked female player in the world, Manika Batra, went to Dabang Smashers.
Falcons TTC's plan was simple — get back the winning combination. Hence, they retained Liam Pitchford, who has been in scintillating form in the international arena of late, of England and national champion Sutirtha Mukherjee. They had earlier retained the 'Giant Slayer' Shetty.
World No 22 Aruna Quadri will join forces with Sharath for the Yodhas. Teen sensation Adriana Diaz, the first female table tennis player from Puerto Rico to qualify for the Olympics, was swooped in by Smashers.
Another young gun setting the stage on fire in the junior circuit, Manav Thakkar (World No 2 junior), was roped in by Challengers.
This season, the teams look more or less balanced.
"I wish I was there here at the RP-SG this year, because they look pretty balanced," Sharath who endured a tough time with RP-SG last season, quipped in his typical style. "But our team is also quite balanced. Let's see, you never know. In T20 cricket, you can never predict, it's the same here. It's just assumptions but in the end until the day you never know. I am pretty happy with the team selection and looking forward to play with the Yodhas this season," the veteran paddler told Firstpost.
Some changes have been introduced in the format with each tie consisting of seven matches instead of nine earlier. A foreign player can play only seven matches in the first stage to make the competition balanced and more interesting.
Sharath was happy with the slightly tweaked format. "It's become shorter which is better because I remember last year I took my family along and after the sixth or seventh match, they felt like ah! It's too long. Shall we just go back home? Now it will be short and climax will be faster which will be good for the spectators."
When asked about the goals going into the tournament, Sharath pulled out that jocular wand again, "Last time we finished sixth, can't be worse than that, so it has to be better."
Sathiyan, who lit the tournament with his ultra aggressive play last season, gained a lot of confidence from the league which helped him in his turnaround. The 24-year-old won all his six matches and was the only unbeaten paddler in the league. He is looking to head into the new season with the same attitude as the last time.
"I am always very positive. Last time I was focussing on each match and player like I play for a Pro Tour and stratigise accordingly," Sathiyan told Firstpost.
"That's what I am going to repeat with Dabang Smashers this year, the team has been very supportive, so it's fantastic I am with them again and will get that freedom I want. I am playing very well in the last one year and it would be fantastic if I could remain unbeaten again. I will take it match by match which would be my first preference and if I happen to be unbeaten, it would be fantastic for the second season in a row."
While the first season was a stepping stone for the league in the country, promoter of CEAT UTT and chairperson of 11Sports, Vita Dani said that the most important goal going into the second season is to promote the sport in the country.
"(The goal is) to popularise the game," Dani said. "If we manage to do that, then we have won the game. Because this country needs to see multiple sports co-exist and I think it is the beginning."
In order to extend the reach of the sport, the UTT has decided to shift the venues for the second season. The first leg will take place in Pune from 14 to 19 June, the second phase will be conducted in Delhi from 20 to 25 June and the final leg will be played in Kolkata from 26 to 1 July. The inaugural edition Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai host the League.
Ultimate Table Tennis season 2 squads:
Challengers: Men: Simon Gauzy (France), Manav Thakkar, Tiago Apolonia (Portugal), Arjun Ghosh. Women: Lee Ho Ching (Hong Kong), Georgina Pota (Hungary), Divya Deshpande, Prapti Sen.
Dabang Smashers T.T.C: Men: Gnanasekaran Sathiyan, Yoshida Masaki (Japan), Sanish Ambekar, Cedric Nuytinck (Belgium). Women: Sakura Mori (Japan), Manika Batra, Adriana Diaz (Puerto Rico), Archana Kamath.
Falcons TTC: Men: Sanil Shetty, Liam Pitchford (Eng), Alvaro Robles (ESP), Ronit Bhanja. Women: Bernadette Szocs (Romania), Matilda Ekholm (Sweden), Sutirtha Mukherjee, Priyadarshini Das.
Maharashtra United: Men: Kristian Karlsson (Sweden), Amalraj Anthony, Joao Monteiro (Portugal), Utkarsh Gupta. Women: Elizabeta Samara (Romania), Madhurika Patkar, Lily Zhang (USA), Selena Selvakumar.
RP-SG Mavericks: Men: Mattias Karlsson (Sweden), Harmeet Desai, Kou Lei (Ukraine), Siddhesh Pande. Women: Doo Hoi Kem (Hong Kong), Ayhika Mukherjee, Mouma Das, Sabine Winter (Germany).
Yodhas: Men:Chuang Chih-Yuan(Chinese Taipei), Achanta Sharath Kamal, Aruna Quadri (Nigeria), Ravindra Kotiyan. Women: Sofia Polcanova (Austria), Hana Matelova (Czech Republic), Pooja Sahasrabuddhe, Sreeja Akula
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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2018 22:09:41 IST