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UTT Player Draft: Newcomers Jaipur Patriots pick top-ranked Indian Sreeja Akula

With eight teams in the fray for the first time this season, the Player Draft was a mindful affair as franchises relied on a little bit of luck to strategize on the go to build a capable squad.

UTT Player Draft: Newcomers Jaipur Patriots pick top-ranked Indian Sreeja Akula
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Indian paddlers Sathiyan G, Sharath Kamal, Manav Thakkar and Yashswini Ghorpade with other officials during the UTT 2024 player draft 

MUMBAI: Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) franchises put their thinking caps on and found a way to pick the best possible squads for UTT 2024 at the Player Draft in Mumbai on Wednesday.

The upcoming season of the league is scheduled to be held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai from August 22 to September 7.

With eight teams in the fray for the first time this season, the Player Draft was a mindful affair as franchises relied on a little bit of luck to strategize on the go to build a capable squad.

Newcomers Jaipur Patriots, who got the first pick in Round 1, went for in-form India star and current World No. 25 Sreeja Akula, who recently became the first Indian to clinch a WTT Contender singles title. Puneri Paltan Table Tennis, who chose not to retain a player, picked Ayhika Mukherjee to kick off proceedings. Ahmedabad SG Pipers, the other franchise to make their UTT debut, went for Manush Shah as their first choice and then bagged the services of women’s World No. 10 Bernadette Szocs of Romania in the second round.

The franchise-based league is promoted by Niraj Bajaj and Vita Dani under the auspices of the Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI).

“Ultimate Table Tennis’ only aim is to help Indian table tennis progress and we are focused on creating a platform that goes beyond the league, supporting the entire ecosystem, including coaches, academies, and tournaments. Today’s Player Draft is a testimony to the fact that some of the best players in the world now want to come and play in the UTT. We are very excited for UTT 2024. This is the first time we have eight teams, and we want to make this even bigger and better. We wish all the teams the best of luck for the upcoming season,” said UTT promoters Vita Dani and Niraj Bajaj.

A total of 48 players, including 16 foreigners, will be in action as teams finalized their six-member squads after the Player Draft.

“More or less, what we had discussed and strategized we got what we wanted. We wanted Sreeja and we got her in the first pick. We have a strong squad and we are confident that we can go all the way,” said Jaipur Patriots COO Imran Shaikh.

“SG Sports prides itself in getting a balanced team with excellent support staff, and we hope to create an environment of camaraderie and togetherness in the team. We’ve enjoyed success in other leagues and other sports with this same formula, so just looking to continue the same thing,” said Kartikeya Rao of Ahmedabad SG Pipers.

U Mumba TT went with the tried and tested formula by once again picking Nigerian star paddler and World No. 19 Aruna Quadri. They also picked Asian Games bronze medallist Sutirtha Mukherjee.

“Really glad with the way the draft went for us at U Mumba. There are no gaping holes in our squad. We were a bit worried about certain areas before the draft, but things worked out quite well and overall, I am very happy with the balance we have got,” said U Mumba CEO Suhail Chandhok.

PBG Bengaluru Smashers will have Alvaro Robles of Spain and Lily Zhang of the USA to support their retained star Manika Batra.

“I am extremely happy with the squad we have got. Having retained Manika Batra, we have managed to pick the experienced duo of Alvaro Robles and Lily Zhang as foreign internationals, with Anthony Amalraj and Jeet Chandra the perfect support cast for Indian men’s paddlers. Talented young paddler Taneesha Kotecha also comes as a great addition, and we are confident that this team will present a strong challenge,” said PBG Bengaluru Smashers owner Punit Balan.

Defending champions Goa Challengers, who had retained India star Harmeet Desai ahead of the draft, have a completely new look. They picked Yangzi Liu of Australia alongside young Indian paddlers Yashaswini Ghorpade and Sayali Wani. Mihai Bobocica of Italy, who had competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, will be their foreign men’s paddler.

“The drafting process is always very exciting, although we were a tad unlucky with pick number 5 during the drafting process. We had the same pick last year and we won the trophy. Hoping to replicate the same this year,” commented Vivek Bhargava, the owner of Goa Challengers.

Last edition’s runners-up Chennai Lions have also gone for a fresh look, with Japan’s Sakura Mori, Frenchman Jules Rolland, and local stars Poymantee Baisya, Mouma Das, and Abhinandh PB joining Indian table tennis legend Achanta Sharath Kamal, who was retained by the team.

“We have a very mature team, some youngsters as well, but generally a very mature team. I’m quite happy with the picks that we’ve got considering the spot,” said GS Ravi, owner of Chennai Lions.

Dabang Delhi will rely on Sathiyan G along with Andreas Levenko of Austria. They also added young Indian paddlers Diya Chitale, Lakshita Narang, and Yashansh Malik to their squad.

“The draft was good for us. We anticipated, we had an auction strategy in place, and for us, it has worked out well. The majority of the players that we had anticipated as part of the strategy we’ve got there,” said Durganath Wagle, CEO, Dabang Delhi TTC.

The upcoming season will be telecast live on Sports18 and streamed on JioCinema.

Squads:

Ahmedabad SG Pipers: Manush Shah, Bernadette Szocs (Romania), Lilian Bardet (France), Reeth Tennison, Pritha Vartikar, Jash Modi

Chennai Lions: Achanta Sharath Kamal, Sakura Mori (Japan), Jules Rolland (France), Poymantee Baisya, Mouma Das, Abhinandh PB

Dabang Delhi TTC: Sathiyan G, Orawan Paranang (Thailand), Diya Chitale, Andreas Levenko (Austria), Yashansh Malik, Lakshita Narang

Goa Challengers: Harmeet Desai, Yangzi Liu (Australia), Yashaswini Ghorpade, Sudhanshu Grover, Sayali Wani, Mihai Bobocica (Italy)

Jaipur Patriots: Sreeja Akula, Cho Seungmin (South Korea), Suthasini Sawettabut (Thailand), Snehit SFR, Ronit Bhanja, Moumita Dutta

PBG Bengaluru Smashers: Manika Batra, Alvaro Robles (Spain), Lily Zhang (USA), Jeet Chandra, Taneesha Kotecha, Amalraj Anthony

Puneri Paltan Table Tennis: Ayhika Mukherjee, Nina Mittelham (Germany), Joao Monteiro (Portugal), Ankur Bhattacharjee, Anirban Ghosh, Yashini Sivashankar

U Mumba TT: Manav Thakkar, Sutirtha Mukherjee, Aruna Quadri (Nigeria), Akash Pal, Kavyasree Baskar, Maria Xiao (Spain)

Agencies
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