Sharath Kamal's Chennai Lions to play Puneri Paltan in UTT season 4 opener
Sharath, ranked 54 in the world, has been a part of the UTT ever since the competition began and he had made it clear that the fourth edition will kickstart his preparation for next year's Olympics.
PUNE: Chennai Lions, led by star paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal, will look to make a winning start to their title defence against hosts Puneri Paltan in the fourth season of Ultimate Table Tennis, beginning here on Thursday.
Chennai Lions had defeated Dabang Delhi in the final of the third season held four years ago in 2019, and will look for a repeat performance this year as the UTT returns with a six-team competition to be played here from July 13 to 31.
Sharath is among the four players who were retained by their respective franchises in this year's players' draft and will be the star attraction in the tournament ahead of this year's Asian Games in Hangzhou (China) and 2024 Olympics in Paris. Sharath, ranked 54 in the world, has been a part of the UTT ever since the competition began and he had made it clear that the fourth edition will kickstart his preparation for next year's Olympics.
Among other big Indian players, Manika Batra and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran were retained by Bengaluru Smashers and Dabang Delhi respectively. Former world no. 1 in U-18 and U-21 categories, Manav Thakkar is expected to lead the charge of U Mumba TT.
Alongside four-time Olympian Sharath, Chennai Lions also have Australia's Yangzi Liu and Germany's Benedikt Duda as one female and male overseas players, as well as India's Sutirtha Mukherjee, Payas Jain and Prapti Sen.
Sutirtha's career graph has been on the rise as the 27-year-old won three gold medals -- singles, team and mixed doubles -- in the South Asian Games in 2019. Recently, she won the doubles title with Ayhika Mukherjee in Tunis at the WTT Contender.
Puneri Paltan, on the other hand, will have Egypt's Omar Assar as their star attraction. The Egyptian, ranked 22, had recently created history when he became the first from his country and only the second African player to reach the quarterfinals of the World Table Tennis Championship, held in South Africa this year. He has won the last two ITTF-African Cup titles.
Czech Republic's Hana Matelova is the overseas female player for Puneri Paltan, who also have India's Snehit SFR , Anusha Kutumbale, Archana Kamath and Manush Shah.
World no. 38 Batra will lead the charge of Bengaluru Smashers along side alongside Ankur Bhattacharjee, Sanil Shetty, Poymantee Baisya, Kazakhstan's Kirill Gerassimenko and Natalia Bajor of Poland. The first Indian player to reach top 25, Sathiyan spearheaded Dabang Delhi's campaign in the last edition of UTT when the side reached the final, and the franchise will be hoping to do one better this time around with Sreeja Akula, Ayhika, Anirban Ghosh, Slovakia's Barbora Balazova and Jon Persson of Sweden in tow.
World no. 43 Alvaro Robles will be the overseas attraction in the Goa Challengers team, who also have Suthasini Sawettabut from Thailand as overseas female player. But Harmeet Desai's form will be one of the strong points for Goa Challengers, as he recently won the bronze medal in the WTT Contender event in Lagos.
Goa Challengers also boast of Krittwika Sinha Roy, Anthony Amalraj and T Reeth Rishya, who represented India in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
U Mumba will also be a strong contender with the likes of Thakkar, Diya Chitale, 2018 CWG silver medallist Mouma Das and multiple time national doubles champion Grover in their ranks. The 2018 CWG silver medallist Aruna Quadri, who is ranked 16th in the world, will be the one to watch out for in U Mumba's team with Lily Zhang being the side's overseas female player.
The six-team tournament will have 36 players from India and overseas playing in a league round of 15 matches -- one match everyday -- from July 13 to 27, post which the top four ranked sides will progress to the semifinals scheduled for July 28 and 29. The final will be played on July 30.
All matches will start at 7:30pm IST.
Squads: Bengaluru Smashers: Manika Batra, Kirill Gerassimenko (Kazakhstan), Sanil Shetty, Natalia Bajor (Poland), Poymantee Baisya, Ankur Bhattacharjee.
Chennai Lions: Sharath Kamal, Yangzi Liu (Australia), Benedikt Duda (Germany), Sutirtha Mukherjee, Payas Jain, Prapti Sen.
Dabang Delhi Table Tennis: Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, 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, Krittwika Sinha Roy, Anthony Amalraj.
Puneri Paltan TTC: Omar Assar (Egypt), Manush Shah, Archana Kamath, Snehit SFR, Anusha Kutumbale, Hana Matelova (Czech Republic).
U Mumba TT: Manav Thakkar, Lily Zhang (US), Aruna Quadri (Nigeria), Diya Chitale, Mouma Das, Sudhanshu Grover.