The poster boy of Indian table tennis Sharath Kamal was snapped up by new-entrants Chennai Lions in the player draft for the third season of Ultimate Tennis League (UTT) on Thursday in Mumbai. Sharath played for Warriors last season. India's highest ranked women's singles player and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manika Batra was roped in by RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata. The highest ranked player (World No 8 ) of the draft Cheng I-Ching of Chines Taipei was picked up by Goa Challengers.
Meanwhile, Gnanasekaran Sathiyan, who recently became the first Indian to break into top-25 rankings, was the only player to be retained by any franchise as defending champions Dabang Delhi TTC held on to him. The decision to retain Sathiyan was taken by Delhi ahead of the payer draft.
The 2019 season of UTT will witness three new teams while Challengers have seen a change in ownership and have been rechristened as Goa Challengers. Maharashtra United, Falcons and Warriors have now been replaced by Puneri Paltan, Chennai Lions and U Mumba TT.
Apart from new teams and addition of city names to the franchise's title, the third season of UTT will also bring to the fans a new format. Each team will now have only six players instead of eight. Also, every tie will only have five matches instead of seven. No player will be allowed to play more than one singles match per tie.
Another rule change sees a singles player being drawn against another player regardless of their nationality. In the previous seasons, Indian players could only be drawn against foreign players. With this rule change, the possibility of a Sathiyan vs Sarath clash or a Manika vs Archana match.
In the player draft, each franchise was required to pick six players apart from Delhi, who needed just five picks as they had already had retained Sathiyan.
A total of 40 players were up for grabs, including 11 Olympians and two youth Olympians from nine different nationalities. In the previous edition, 46 players were part of the process including 25 Olympians.
The first round witnessed a fight for top Indian stars and highest ranked foreign players. World No 11 Hong Kong's Doo Hoi Kem was acquired by U Mumba, while No 27 Chinese Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan went to Puneri Paltan.
Indian star paddlers were also in high demand as former World No 1 in junior boys category Manav Thakkar was roped in by U Mumba while the talented Archana Kamath was grabbed by Goa Challengers. Seasoned Sanil Shetty went to Kolkata and Puneri Platan prized away Harmeet Desai.
Among the top foreign nationals, women's World No 16 Romania's Bernadette Szocs was picked up by Delhi. World No 24 Sweden's Matilda Ekholm was acquired up by Kolkata. Men's World No 43 Portugal's Tiago Apolonia joined Chennai and World No 46 Germany's Benedikt Duda was acquired by Kolkata.
Sharath who was picked up by his hometown franchise Chennai Lions, who replaced 2017 edition winner Falcons, was excited about the upcoming tournament.
"It's a pleasure to be part of a champion team which won the trophy two seasons ago and were runners up last season. I will give my 100 percent to win back the trophy," said Sharath in a video message during the draft.
Talking about the tweaking of the format, reduction in the number of players and matches, UTT chairperson Vita Dani said the rationale behind the decision was to make the league more entertaining.
"We learn from every league and the best thing one can learn from IPL is how to mix entertainment and sport. How to make it more entertaining and to ensure that it is played by the masses. It's not going to be difficult for us as TT has been a sport played by everyone at some point in time in their life. For me, the aim is to make the game popular and to make it the talk of the town."
The league will take place in Delhi this year from 25 July to 11 August.
Chennai Lions: Sharath Kamal, Petrissa Solja, Tiago Apolonia, Madhurika Patkar, Yashini Sivasankar, Anirban Ghosh.
Dabang Delhi TTC: Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Bernadette Szocs, Jon Persson, Parth Virmani, Naina, Krittwika Sinha Roy.
Goa Challengers: Cheng-I-Ching, Archana Kamath, Amalraj Anthony, Siddhesh Pandey, Shruti Amrute, Alvaro Robles.
Puneri Paltan: Chaung-Chih Yuan, Harmeet Desai, Ayhika Mukherjee, Selena Selvakumar, Ronit Bhanja and Sabine Winter.
RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata: Mainka Batra, Benedikt Duda, Maltida Ekholm, Manush Shah, Prapti Sen and Sanil Shetty.
U Mumba TT: Doo Hoi Kem, Manav Thakkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Kirill Gerassimenko, Jeet Chandra and Moumita Dutta.
The coach draft for the season also took place a few days back with six Indian and six foreign coaches picked by the six sides. Here's the result of the coach draft:
Chennai Lions: A Muralidhara Rao and Peter Engel
Dabang Delhi TTC: Sachin Shetty and Vesna Ojstersek
Goa Challengers: Arup Basak and Elena Timina
RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata: N Ravichandran and Zoltan Batorfi
U Mumba TT: Soumyadeep Roy and Jiaqi Zheng
Puneri Paltan: Parag Agrawal and Francisco Santos
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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2019 19:41:57 IST