The second season of CEAT Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) Powered by Kellogg's gets underway here on Thursday, with the captains of the six teams expecting a much tougher race towards the title.
Achanta Sharath Kamal (Warriors T.T.C.), Gnanesekaran Sathiyan (Dabang Smashers T.T.C), Liam Pitchford (Falcons TTC), Simon Gauzy (Empowerji Challengers), Harmeet Desai (RP-SG Mavericks) and Joao Monteiro (Maharashtra United) while unveiling the trophy here said that the tournament has helped Indians and even the foreigners improve manifold.
Sathiyan pointed out his phenomenal rise in the World Rankings, from 120 to 44, his best ever and also gave credit to it for India’s stupendous show at the Commonwealth Games.
“CEAT UTT has created a platform for Indian players. I was the only undefeated player last season and it gave me the confidence to do well on the World Tour,” he said on Tuesday. Sathiyan is among the three Indians who will be leading their respective franchises. Last season Sharath Kamal was the only Indian among the captains.
World No. 12 Gauzy, who would be turning up in the tournament for the first time, will be leading last year’s finalists Empowerji Challengers, is excited at matching his wits with the world’s best. “I had watched it last season on Facebook and everybody who had played said they had a good time. I’m very happy to be here,” said the Frenchman.
Pitchford, the first season's Most Valuable Player (MVP), who will be leading defending champions Falcons TTC, believes the tournament has been equally beneficial to the foreign players as well. “Last season it was helpful in dealing with the pressure situations during the World Tour events. So it not just helps Indian players but international players too,” he said.
After the Pune leg, which concludes on June 19, CEAT UTT put together by 11SPORTS and Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) heads to Delhi’s Thyagaraj stadium from June 20-25, 2018 before the final leg at Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium from June 26 to July 1, 2018.
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 on the next day. The final will be on July 1.
The winners will be richer by Rs. 1 crore while the runners-up will bag Rs. 75 lakh. Both losing semifinalists will get Rs. 25 lakh each.
Eight-time national table tennis champion and 11Sports Director Kamlesh Mehta feels the compact format of the event from a nine-match tie to seven match tie will make it very interesting for spectators and players alike. “The new format will give more opportunity for the Indians and help them gain experience,” he said while addressing the media here on Tuesday.
TTFI senior vice-president Rajeev Bodas indicated the interest level in the sport has increased since the advent of CEAT UTT. “A state-level tournament in Pune which used to attract 200-300 entries witnessed more than 600 entries this season. Interest in table tennis is definitely getting bigger,” he said.
In all, players from 19 countries and 24 Olympians will be competing in the event.
All matches will commence at 7 PM IST and will be telecast LIVE on Star Sports Select 1, Jio TV and Hotstar.