Rising cost and limited pay-off seems to have led to the formation of six refurbished franchisees – with lesser number of players – to battle it out in a shortened format of the cash-rich Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league, beginning at the Thyagaraj Stadium here on Wednesday.
Over the next 18 days, the teams vie for a prize-fund of Rs. two crore. The winner on August 11 will receive Rs. 75 lakh and the runner-up, Rs. 50 lakh.
Unlike the previous two seasons, the action will be limited to the Capital. This is clearly to cut out the travelling expenses and other related costs involved in taking the league to different cities.
To limit the duration of each tie to around two hours, the number of matches have been reduced – from seven last year to five this year – by cutting down two singles, one each for men and women.
In spite of all the pruning, the focus remains firmly on the home-grown talent, with each team comprising four Indians and two overseas players.Each tie comprises two women singles, two men singles and a mixed doubles.
A player can feature in one singles and one doubles. The mixed doubles combination should have one Indian and one overseas player. Unlike last year, this edition will feature singles involving two Indians. Since there was no players’ auction and those in the fray were drafted into six teams, all teams appear well balanced.
Defending champion Dabang Smashers is now Dabang Delhi. With spearhead G. Sathiyan in fine form, Romania’s top-ranked woman Bernadette Szocs and Sweden’s No. 3 Jon Persson in its fold, Dabang faces new entrant Puneri Paltan in the inaugural clash.
Freshly-crowned Commonwealth champions Harmeet Desai and Ayhika Mukherjee, along with World No. 28 Chaung Chih Yuan (Chinese Taipei) and World No. 62 among women, Sabine Winter (Germany), Paltan is capable of upsetting the calculations of other contenders.
Sharath Kamal-led Chennai Lions, too, looks formidable. Portugal No. 2 Tiago Apolonia, Madhurika Patkar and Germany’s top-ranked woman Petrissa Solja can all contribute to take the team to the title.
For Kolkata-based RP-SG Maverics, Manika Batra and Germany No. 5 Benedikt Duda hold the key. Left-hander Sanil Shetty, who had a good 2017 UTT season, along with Sweden No. 1 woman player Matilda Ekolm make the team a serious title-aspirant.
Debutant U Mumba boasts of top ranked Kazakh Kirill Gerassimenko and Hong Kong’s No. 1 woman player Doo Hoi Kem, besides Manav Thakkar and Sutirtha Mukherjee.
The proverbial ‘dark horse’ could well be Goa Challengers. Served by World No. 8 woman Cheng I-Ching (Chinese Taipie) and Spain’s No. 1 Alvaro Robles, Goa can safely bank on A. Amalraj and Archana Kamath. Since most teams are evenly matched, the race to the title promises to be close one.
List of players
List of coaches
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