The Ultimate Table Tennis League kicks off from 14 June in Pune amid great expectations from the Indian paddlers, following their heroic efforts in the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia. Manika Batra has helped popularise table tennis in India with her stunning performance at the Games with the men's players following up with consistent performances in the Games and the World Championships in Stockholm. The involvement of these paddlers in the second season of Ultimate Table Tennis will draw a lot more spectators and viewers this year.
This season, UTT will see a shorter format with the number of matches in a tie being reduced to seven, from nine last year. Two matches consisting of foreign versus foreign players have been removed from the lineup. Thus each tie will consist of 21 games with the team to win twelve or more games is the winner of the tie. This means that this season the performance of Indian paddlers will be all the more vital as four of the six singles matches will be Indian player versus foreign player with the seventh match being a mixed doubles event with each pair consisting one Indian and one foreign player. The shorter format should also be more exciting for the viewers with high-voltage action throughout.
Just like the previous season, UTT this year will feature six teams with each team consisting of four Indian players and four foreign players equally divided in the male and female category. The defending champions Falcons TTC should start as favourites, having selected three of their players from the first season. It will definitely be easier for them to get going in this league with the 'Giant Slayer' Sanil Shetty, the Most Valuable Player of last season Liam Pitchford and current India rank one Sutirtha Mukherjee back in the yellow colours for Falcons TTC. Sanil will most likely also lead the charge in the mixed doubles pair. The addition of Romanian Bernadette-Szocs and the experienced Swede Matilda Ekholm will further strengthen their squad.
The other team that looks very formidable this season is Dabang Smashers T.T.C. They have gone for youth and exuberance in this season, boasting the youngest squad amongst all. The team will surely look up to the Indian duo of Manika Batra and Sathiyan Gnansekaran to take charge. Both are India's highest ranked players in the world ranking " rising up the world charts during last year. Manika was exceptional in the Commonwealth Games winning the gold medal as she beat a number of good foreign players, including World No 9 Feng Tianwei twice in the team and individual events.
Likewise, Sathiyan Gnansekaran has been consistent in the world circuit winning two ITTF pro-tour titles and playing a pivotal role in India's Commonwealth Games gold and the World Championship matches in Stockholm. It will be interesting to see whether their young foreign players " which include eighteen-year-old Adriana Diaz of Puerto Rico, two Japanese paddlers Yoshida Masaki and Sakura Mori along with Cedric Nuytinck of Belgium " are able to handle the pressure which UTT brings to the fore.
Newly formed Warriors T.T.C., on the other hand, will count on the experience of India's stalwart Sharath Kamal and Taipei's Chuang Chih-Yuan to win them plenty of games. The Empowerji Challengers and the RP-SG Mavericks look reliant on their star players to perform. Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong- the highest ranked female player in season two - was good last season and she will have to play a pivotal role, should the Mavericks wish to qualify for the knockout stages while the Challengers will hope that the highest ranked player in UTT " Simon Gauzy of France puts in great performances. Maharashtra United have a balanced squad and will look for an overall team effort to win them during the league stages of the UTT.
All in all, this season will see a lot more excitement and positivity towards Table Tennis. The tournament will be held in three stages between 14 June and 1 July with the first stage in Pune from 14 to 19 June followed by Delhi from 20 to 25 June and the last stage being held in Kolkata from 26 June to 1 July. The knockout phase of the tournament will consist of two semifinals on 29 and 30 June between the top four teams of the league stage and the final will be played on 1 July in Kolkata.