*48 players to play in the league
By Adeyemi Robinson-Adefioye, Lagos
African champion, Aruna Quadri, with 47 top players will Thursday 13th July at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai begin quest for honours in the lucrative CEAT Ultimate Table Tennis League in India.
Quadri will be leading Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas against DHFL Maharashtra United led by World No. 8, Hong Kong’s Wong Chun Ting, who will also be joined by women’s No. 22, Austria’s Liu Jia, along with Portugal’s Joao Monteiro and Fu Yu, who are both part of the top 50 in the men’s and women’s category respectively.
A confident Aruna Quadri of Oilmax-Stag Yoddhas spoke about what he was looking forward to, “I’m very happy to be here and also very excited. It’s going to be one of the best leagues in the world. The format of play is very interesting. All the players in each team will be difficult to play. We’re looking forward to the table tennis action.”
Quadri’s teammate, Manika Batra, concurred with the Nigerian, “I’m very excited to play this league, it’ll be fun, and a chance to play with higher-ranked players.
Armed with confidence and optimism ahead of what promises to be a gripping inaugural CEAT Ultimate Table Tennis season, Mr. Kamlesh Mehta, Director of Eleven Sports and representatives from each team took to the stage for a quick questions and answers session. It was the pre-season press conference and the theme revolved around excitement, as the players were visibly amped with the league just around the corner.
Mr. Kamlesh Mehta expressed his joy at the fruition of a dream, “It’s a matter of pride to announce what was a dream has today become a reality. Thanks to the support we’ve received when we envisaged this particular assignment. Wherever we went we got very good response and very good support. The first place was of course the Table Tennis Federation of India, along with them we also approached the Asian Table Tennis Federation. We got resounding and very good support from them. 11even Sports founder Mrs. Vita Dani and Mr. Niraj Bajaj, an Arjuna Awardee himself have really given us strength to go ahead,’’ Mr. Mehta said.
“And with all your support, I’m sure we’ll reach out to table tennis fans across India and abroad and that is the aim of Ultimate Table Tennis – to bring table tennis to a level that we’ll all be proud of. I’m very happy with Chennai being the first city of this historic event because it’s one of cities that has had a very strong legacy in table tennis of producing national champions over so many decades. Now some of the best players are coming from Chennai in every category and that’s another plus point. We wish all the players the best, they put their best foot forward and play the best table tennis,’’ Mr. Mehta concluded.
Next, it was time for a man who’s been there and done that to take centre-stage. Indian maestro Sharath Kamal commented on the format of the league and more, “It’s a shorter format than what we usually play. It’s 9 matches, but only 3 games will be played, normally we play a best of 5 or a best of 7 in the international matches but here we’ll play only 3 games. I think the format by itself makes every team use all its players and all its players contribute to the success of the team. You cannot have just one or two players strong and win the tie.
“It’s very important that all the players contribute and I think personally as far as Indian players are concerned, it’s a very good platform where we play foreign players and we’ll also play one of the mixed doubles, so we’ll have enough matches where the Indians are also playing against the foreign players, I think it’s a good mixture.
CEAT UTT has revolutionised the sport with its unique format. Dabang Smashers TTC’s Marcos Freitas was then asked about table tennis now being more of a team sport, “Table tennis is an individual sport, but of course we have doubles, mixed doubles so it’s always nice to have partners with us and it’s a big team here. It’s interesting to try new things and it’ll be very entertaining for spectators and for us, the players too.
The excellent Sabine Winter of RP-SG Mavericks spoke about her expectations, “I expect the matches to be interesting for the spectators. I’m looking forward to it. We have a good atmosphere in the team and I’m excited about the next three weeks.
The veteran Sharath Kamal gave his perspective about the exposure that the league will bring, “If the league would’ve started 15 years ago, I would have stayed back in India (laughs). I think it’s a great exposure for the youngsters, especially the upcoming Indian players who will be training with the top players of the world. They can learn a lot, experience what it takes to reach the top of the world. It’ll be a great exposure for Indian table tennis at the international level and I hope if we can continue at this level, India will probably also be a strong nation in the forthcoming years in table tennis.
Portuguese expert Marcos Freitas threw in his thoughts, “I think it’s a really exciting league, it’s a new concept in table tennis, something I’ve never participated in before. I think it’ll be interesting. All the teams are very good, every team is strong. There’s not one team that everybody can call a ‘favourite.’ I think all the teams can win, so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes. I hope I play very well for my team – the Dabang Smashers. And I hope we finish very high.
Freitas’ teammate, Madurika Patkar, also voiced her enthusiasm, “I’m really excited to be a part of the first edition of CEAT UTT. Till now, in India, we’ve seen many leagues coming up in cricket, football, badminton, kabaddi, hockey – I think it’s a great opportunity for all the players and it’s a big league for the Indian players. It’ll be fun with the format and I have a great team and looking forward to it.
DHFL Maharashtra United’s Pooja Sahasrabudhe had this to say about the league, “I think the league has already become popular for table tennis players around the world and TT lovers within the country. I’m very excited and looking forward to it. The players from different countries will get exposure and experience different styles of play. I think every team is equally strong and balanced so it all depends on the best strategy, planning, and who plays better. Let’s cross the fingers for Maharashtra United.
While her partner Wong Chung Ting echoed his thoughts, “I’m very excited to play this tournament with many top players. This is my second visit to India and I’m ready.
Indian star Soumyajit Ghosh will turn out for the Shaze Challengers and was looking forward to a great few weeks in his homeland, “I’m really happy to play in my country and it’s really exciting! Hopefully, it’ll be great for my team and we’ll give it our best. This platform is really good for Indian players to perform and show the world our talent and we have the opportunity to play with foreign players. Hopefully, we’ll do well.
Wu Yang would be making her debut in India, “This is the first time I’m playing in this system and it’ll be exciting. I hope everybody has fun.
Han Ying of the Shaze Challengers said, “I’m very happy to be here in India with the Indian as well as the foreign players.
Emerging Indian star Sanil Shetty also expressed his excitement, “I’m very happy to be a part of CEAT UTT. For me, it’s full of surprises, fun, excitement, emotions, I hope every sports lover will love it. Happy to be a part of Falcons TTC. We have a good, balanced team with some European technique and Asian skills.
With stars both foreign and domestic, eager to get going with all the action, CEAT UTT promises to be a spectacle like never before.