(From left): Benedikt Duda, Harmeet Desai, Sharath Kamal, Bernadette Szocs, Manav Thakkar and Alvaro Robles will showcase their skills in the 2019 Ultimate Table Tennis league
Starting July 25, some of the most coveted names in table tennis will slog it out for almost three weeks, vying for top honours and prize money of Rs75 lakh. The third edition of the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league begins with defending champions Dabang Delhi TTC taking on Puneri Paltan TT at the Thyagaraj Stadium in Delhi on Thursday. RP-SG Mavericks Kolkata, Goa Challengers (formerly Empowerji Challengers), Chennai Lions and U Mumba TT are the other teams participating in the tournament.
The sport, competing for eyeballs in a country obsessed with cricket, is relying on the presence of some top global sportspersons to give it a fillip. This year, World No 8 Cheng I-Ching (Taiwan), World No 11 Doo Hoi Kem (Hong Kong) and World No 18 Bernadette Szocs (Romania) will be seen in action, along with India’s Manik Batra (Commonwealth Games double gold medallist), Sathiyan G (World No 24, India’s highest ranked player), Sharath Kamal and Harmeet Desai, among others.
“I feel immensely happy to see table tennis grow by leaps and bounds in recent times. Having a league like the UTT that combines the best talent and skill makes it a great platform for youngsters to flourish. It will also boost India’s Olympic medal hopes,” says Dr Prem Verma, working president of the Table Tennis Federation of India.
The league, started in 2017, is the brainchild of 11Sports and its founder Vita Dani. “Season three will be exciting because of its different format. It is also being appreciated by the international federation, which is encouraging because it tells us that we are doing the right thing. We are happy as long as the entire ecosystem of table tennis benefits from this,” she says.
In the shorter format this year, each team will play five ties—compared to seven last year—with a match decided over three games. If the scores are tied at 10-all, a golden point shall decide the winner. Held under the aegis of the Table Tennis Federation of India, UTT is the only league in the world that follows a short format. All other leagues span over the year, with matches played only on weekends. Also, for the first time, UTT will adopt a city-based league culture, with all six teams from different cities.
Niraj Bajaj, promoter-director of Bajaj Group, came into the picture last year and agreed to become co-promoter of the league. Eight times national champion and Arjuna Awardee Kamlesh Mehta, who is also director, UTT, says: “The fact that out of the 12 coaches, nine have come back, some for the third year, speaks a lot about the league.”
The round-robin-cum-knockout format will be followed by the semis on August 9-10 and final on August 11. The runners-up will get Rs50 lakh, the losing semi-finalists Rs25 lakh each and there will be individual awards of Rs25 lakh too.