Ultimate Table Tennis crucial in helping Indian paddlers improve, international players feel

MUMBAI: The face-off between Women’s World No.9 Han Ying and World No.13 Wu Yang in the summit clash was perhaps one of the most intense matches -- played in Chennai, Delhi, and Mumbai -- in the recently concluded Ultimate Table Tennis -- of which Ceat was the title sponsor.

In a 10-year deal, each team owner paid Rs 26 million for the franchise, with the players’ fee ranging between Rs 1.5 and 2 lakh, depending on the ranking and stature. The winner of the league got Rs 10 million in prize money—from a total purse of Rs 30 million.

With both players of Chinese origin known for being masters of defensive play, the match was pegged as the decider for the title and it was Wu Yang who eventually succeeded 3-0 thus setting up a sensational win for the Falcons TTC over Shazé Challengers. “It was a close match and playing against an opponent like Han Ying is always exciting,” Wu Yang expressed after the match.

It’s rare for Chinese paddlers considered the best in the world to participate in India, which is yet to be considered a dominant force in the world stage. However, Chinese-origin players who took part in India’s first ever pro-league feel this is only a stepping stone for India to make a mark in the world of table tennis.

The gripping innovations in the league kept the excitement alive for fans and viewers alike. “The Indian men are world-class in table tennis already and have won against some of the best players in the world. I am sure with good exposure like this through professional leagues, the women too will improve their performances. This league was exceptional in terms of organizing and even the level of competition was good. We didn’t anticipate this kind of crowd response when we initially signed up for the league,” stated Han Ying, of Chinese-origin from Germany who played for Shazé Challengers in the Ceat UTT.

The Rio Olympics silver medalist further added that she would love to come back again next year for the league. “I have enjoyed my stay and will certainly come back to play next year,” added the 34-year-old Han Ying.

Li Ping, another Chinese-born player from Qatar felt that professional league can be instrumental in helping young players improve their performance. “The exposure youngsters get out of playing professional leagues is extremely important. Playing against world’s best players and spending almost an entire month observing top players and getting valuable tips about the game will definitely help them improve their game and most importantly improve their confidence level,” explained Li Ping.

Wu Yang further added that many of the women players would try and discuss technical aspects of the game and language was never a barrier to share their knowledge on the sport. “Language was never a barrier when Indian players would ask about technical aspects of the sport. We would end up demonstrating the shots. When we spend more than 20 days as a team, we end up becoming comfortable to share aspects of the game and that’s what I did and thoroughly enjoyed this stint,” expressed Wu Yang, who won the women’s MVP as well as the Ultimate One award.

Men’s world No. 8 Wong Chun Ting, who played for DHFL Maharashtra United said, “The league has given a world-class platform to Indian players and it will eventually help them to make a career out of the sport. The Indian players in this league have raised their level a notch above.”

Liam Pitchford, who won the men’s MVP at Ceat UTT, and also won the title playing for Falcons TTC was pretty impressed with the league. “It is an exciting prospect for table tennis, and for the development of the sport in India. The format was such that it puts more pressure on the players and that’s what made it more exciting. I would love to be a part of the next edition as well” said the 24-year old from Great Britain.

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