The top Indian paddlers of the country shall lock horns against the best in the world as the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT), country's first ever professional league, starts off with a bang in Chennai on Thursday.
After high-profile leagues backed by corporate sponsorships and big prize money helped in raising the standards and popularity of badminton, football, hockey, wrestling and kabaddi, it is now the turn of UTT to make Ping Pong popular among the masses of the country.
All the big names of Indian table tennis like Achanta Sharath Kamal, Sanil Shetty, Anirban Lahiri to name a few shall be eager to show their skills at smashing and chopping in India's first televised table tennis league. The Indian players shall have the opportunity to play against the likes of men's world number 8 Wong Chun Ting of Hong Kong and women's number nine Han Ying of Germany, who are headlining the field.
Speaking ahead of the tournament, India number one Sharath said he was excited to play in his own backyard, years after playing leagues in Europe.
"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," said the world number 43.
Former national champion Kamlesh Mehta, who is one of the brains behind the league, said UTT was a dream come true with ground work having started two years ago. "It is finally happening. There were naturally some teething issues but we are off the blocks. The biggest challenge was to convince foreign players to come and be part of the league.
So here is all you need to know about the Ultimate Table Tennis League
Six franchise-based clubs
UTT will have six franchise-based clubs fighting it out for the coveted title. The first match of the opening leg here will see RP-SG Mavericks, featuring Indian ace Sharath Kamal, Stefan Fegerl and Sabine Winter, take on Falcons TTC comprising Wu Yang, Lee Ho Chong, Par Gerell and Sanil Shetty. The other franchises in the fray are Shaze Challengers, Dabang Smashers TTC, Maharashtra United and Oilmax-Stag Yodhas.
Aamir Khan is Brand Ambassador
What is expected to give the venture a big fillip is that all matches will be broadcast live with film star Amir Khan being the league's biggest ambassador.
Eight matches would be played in Chennai from 13 to 20 July before the league moves to Delhi (21 to 25 July). The final leg would be held from 26 July in Mumbai.
A foreign coach and Indian coach will be with each franchise with the matches being played in a best of three format, different to the best of seven and best of five played on the international circuit. The list of foreign coaches includes Elena Timina, Peter Engel, Ilija Lupulesku, Francisco Santos, Joao Geraldo and Ferenc Karsai.