UTT 2018: Holder Falcons to take on Maharashtra in opener

India’s 2018 Commonwealth Games heroes and top paddlers from around the world will be showcasing their skills in the second edition of Ultimate Table Tennis that gets underway in Pune from June 14.

Players from 19 different nationalities will be competing in the league and amongst them are 24 Olympians, 19 National champions and 17 No. 1 ranked players of their respective countries.   -  Vivek Bendre

India’s 2018 Commonwealth Games heroes and top paddlers from around the world will be showcasing their skills in the second edition of Ultimate Table Tennis that gets underway in Pune from June 14. Defending champion Falcons TTC will take on Maharashtra United in the season opener.

UTT will see Indian stars — Manika Batra, Mouma Das, Madhurika Patkar Sharath Kamal, Anthony Amalraj, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Harmeet Desai, Sanil Shetty, Pooja Sahasrabudhe and Sutirtha Mukherjee — compete after their historic show in the Gold Coast Games in April, where they bagged a record eight medals (three gold, two silver and three bronze).

Frenchman Simon Gauzy (World No. 12) and Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem (World No. 13) are among the top-ranked foreign players in the glitzy league featuring six teams — Empowerji Challengers, Dabang Smashers T.T.C, Falcons TTC, Maharashtra United, RP-SG Mavericks and Warriors T.T.C.

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Players from 19 different nationalities will be competing in the league and amongst them are 24 Olympians, 19 National champions and 17 No. 1 ranked players of their respective countries. A hefty prize of ₹3 crore is up for grabs as the teams battle for top honours over 18 days of intense competition.

During the league phase, spread over 15 days, each team will play the other once with six ties each in Pune and Delhi. Kolkata will play host to three league ties besides the semifinals and the grand finale on July 1.

Maharashtra United, whose roster boasts the likes of Amalraj, along with Swede Kristian Karlsson (World No. 18) and Romanian Elizabeta Samara (World No. 19), faces a stiff challenge first up as it lines up against defending champion Falcons TTC, which is spearheaded by Sanil Shetty and another top Swede in Matilda Ekholm (World No. 30) on the inaugural day at the Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune.

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High-voltage action is on the cards on the second day when Empowerji Challengers, which possess top-ranked players in Gauzy, Manav Thakkar (World Junior No. 2) and Hong Kong’s Lee Ho Ching (World No. 20), clashes with an equally quality side RP-SG Mavericks, which has World No. 20 Mattias Karlsson (Sweden), Doo Hoi Kem and Mouma Das in its ranks.

CWG double gold medallist Manika will step up to the table on the third day when her team Dabang Smashers TTC, which includes Sakura Mori (World No 28) and G. Sathiyan, lines up against Warriors TTC (formerly Yoddhas) comprising Sharath Kamal, World No. 15 Chuang Chih-Yuan (Chinese Taipei), World No. 22 Aruna Quadri (Nigeria) and World No. 18 Sofia Polcanova (Austria).

The teams will be aiming for an early lead as they play their second ties in the next three days of action before heading to the capital.

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Delhi fans get an opportunity to root for their homegrown star Manika as Dabang Smashers will lock horns with RP-SG Mavericks in the first tie at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex. The next five days are expected to throw up some exciting fare as teams will be looking to log maximum points.

The proceedings at Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium begin with the Empowerji Challengers facing Dabang Smashers TTC. The penultimate day of the league will see Maharashtra United taking on Warriors TTC, while RP-SG Mavericks meets Falcons TTC on June 28.

After the league stage, the first and fourth-placed teams will play the first semifinal on June 29, while the second and third-placed teams play the second semifinal the next day.

The final will be on July 1. The winner will be richer by ₹1 crore, while the runner-up will bag ₹75 lakh. Both losing semi-finalists will get ₹50 lakh each.