Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India], June 2 (ANI): Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) is almost here and a sure shot sign of it was the UTT Season 4 Player Draft that unfolded at the National Sports Club of India in Mumbai on Friday.
Team owners, management and coaches got down to business in order to secure their teams as strategy and luck would allow them. The UTT Season 4 Player Draft set the stage for an epic comeback season.
The draft kicked off with Puneri Paltan Table Tennis and Goa Challengers, who chose not to use their right to retain a player and were offered to take first picks. Using the opportunity, Puneri Paltan Table Tennis swooped in to pick up Egypt's Omar Assar as their first addition to the squad whereas Goa Challengers opted for former Southeast Asian Games champion Suthasini Sawettabut of Thailand. Assar has been brilliant in the recent tournaments which has seen him jump eight spots in the latest ITTF rankings to World No. 22.
"We are thrilled with the balanced team we have. Each player brings a unique set of skills and experience to the table, and we are confident that this team will be a force to reckon with in the upcoming league. After a long wait of three years, we are finally playing in Pune, our home stadium Balewadi, and we couldn't be more excited," commented Kailash Kandpal, CEO, Puneri Paltan Table Tennis.
Getting an opportunity to take the first pick in Round 2, U Mumba TT opted for USA's Lily Zhang, while Bengaluru Smashers picked Kirill Gerassimenko of Kazakhstan. Manush Shah was onboarded by Puneri Paltan Table Tennis while Harmeet Desai was Goa Challengers' second choice for the squad.
Having Sathiyan Gnanasekaran already in their team via retention, Dabang Delhi TTC opted for two-time national champion Sreeja Akula. Liu Yangzi (Australia) and Benedikt Duda (Germany) were first two picks for Chennai Lions to join ace paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal.
"We are happy how the team has come together. We had already retained Sharath Kamal and the rest of the players had also been our first choices. The mix of international and domestic, this could be our team to defend the title," co-owners Dr Karishma YadavAdv Harini Yadav said.
Having retained Manika Batra, Bengaluru Smashers bagged Sanil Shetty before adding Poland's Natalia Bajor, Poymantee Baisya and Ankur Bhattacharjee to complete the squad.
"Very happy with the picks. We got the players we had in mind. All the teams are balanced. Besides, of course, Manika, I am looking forward to Kirill, who can be dangerous for other foreign players. He has been promising at the UTT. Even at the world level he has been beating good players. He will be the main player to watch out for from our team, besides Manika," Bengaluru Smashers owner Punit Balan said.
U Mumba TT CEO Suhail Chandhok returned pleased with business. "I am extremely happy with how the draft went. My job was done when I picked the number one spot for the first pick; we were lucky to get that opportunity. Lily and [Quadri] Aruna, our top picks, joined us successfully. Adding Diya, an incredibly talented local player, brings us immense joy. Mouma joining us adds a crucial layer of experience, and Sudhanshu is also a great addition. We already had Manav before the draft, so both the coaches and I are absolutely thrilled with the squad we have," he commented.
"The format itself is such that it gets balanced out. We've got a variety of players, some are new, some experienced. We are looking forward to winning the title and we have got a strong team. But it all depends on what happens on the day of the match," Dabang Delhi owner Roshini Kapoor.
The franchise-based league is promoted by Niraj Bajaj and Vita Dani under the auspices of the Table Tennis Federation of India.
The UTT Season 4 is scheduled at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune from July 13 to 30 and will be broadcasted live on Sports 18 and streamed on Jio Cinema.
Final teams:Bengaluru Smashers: Manika Batra (Retained), Kirill Gerassimenko (Kazakhstan), Sanil Shetty, Natalia Bajor (Poland), Poymantee Baisya, Ankur BhattacharjeeChennai Lions: Sharath Kamal (Retained), Yangzi Liu (Australia), Benedikt Duda (Germany), Sutirtha Mukherjee, Payas Jain, Prapti SenDabang Delhi Table Tennis: Sathiyan G (Retained), Sreeja Akula, Barbora Balazova (Slovakia), Ayhika Mukherjee, Anirban Ghosh, Jon Persson (Sweden)Goa Challengers: Suthasini Sawettabut (Thailand), Harmeet Desai, Alvaro Robles (Spain), T Reeth Rishya, Kwittwika Sinha Roy, Anthony AmalrajPuneri Paltan Table Tennis: Omar Assar (Egypt), Manush Shah, Archana Kamath, Snehit SFR, Anusha Kutumbale, Hana Matelova (Czech Rep.)U Mumba TT: Manav Thakkar (Retained), Lily Zhang (US), Aruna Quadri (Nigeria), Diya Chitale, Mouma Das, Sudhanshu Grover (ANI)