Ultimate Table Tennis franchises choose their coaches at the Season 4 Coach Draft -
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Ultimate Table Tennis franchises choose their coaches at the Season 4 Coach Draft

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UTT co-promoters Niraj Bajaj and Vita Dani (C) pose with the team owners at the Season 4 coach draft in Mumbai on Friday, May 5, 2023.

Khel Today Bureau
Mumbai: Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) held its Coach Draft in Mumbai on Friday as the six franchises picked their coaches for the upcoming edition of the league, scheduled from July 13 to 30.

The UTT Season 4 Coach Draft was attended by UTT co-promoters Niraj Bajaj and Vita Dani along with team owners who made their first strategic move for the season by choosing a combination of one Indian and one foreign coach from the talent available in the pool.

The draft began by determining the sequence or order for selection with each team picking up the numbered ball (1-6) from a pouch for Round 1. The order would be reversed for Round 2.

The league’s newest team, Bengaluru Smashers made the first pick in Round 1 to bring Sachin Shetty on board before adding Slovenia’s Vesna Ojstersek as their foreign coach in the Round 2.

“I think Vesna and Sachin were a combination for Delhi which ended up as runners-up in 2019. We had that at the back of our mind. Our team had done the homework and these were our first choices. It’s always good to be a part of a league, especially a non-cricketing league. We are happy to be a part of UTT,” commented Punit Balan, owner of Bengaluru Smashers.

Second to pick a coach, Dabang Delhi TTC zeroed in on an experienced A Muralidhara Rao first and then bagged four-time Olympian Slobodan Grujic of Serbia as their foreign coach in the second round. Dabang Delhi TTC owner Radha Kapoor Khanna felt the process was very interesting and was looking to work with their picks.

“We came in with a few equations in mind between the international and Indian coaches. We had a few options. We are hoping that a combination of Muralidhara Rao and Slobodan brings in the winning spirit,” she said.

U Mumba TT and Puneri Paltan Table Tennis found their desired combination in Portugal’s Francisco Santos and Anshul Garg, and N Ravichandran and Zoltan Batorfi of Hungary respectively.

“Francisco and Anshul were our top picks. We have been in touch with Francisco from Portugal, he is already happy being a part of the U Mumba TT franchise and really wanted to work with Anshul. It was really important to get a young combination on the circuit,” said U Mumba TT CEO Suhail Chandhok.

Puneri Paltan Table Tennis CEO Kailash Kandpal commented on the team’s choice: “I am happy with the combination we picked. Zoltan and Ravichandran worked together in their last assignment in Kolkata. They work pretty well as a unit. There were other combinations we had in mind, but this was our priority,”

Goa Challengers picked a combination of five-time Olympian Elena Timina and Parag Agrawal. Vivek Bhargava, the Goa Challengers’ owner, felt the season started well for them with their picks at the coach’s draft. He further added: “The draft was wonderful for us. We got our two top coaches.”

Defending champions Chennai Lions picked India’s Somnath Ghosh before ending the draft with the addition of German Jorg Bitzigeio, who guided the German women’s team to bronze medal at the 2010 World Team Championships, as their foreign coach in the second round.

“We are elated to be a part of UTT. We intend to give our best. The combination of Somnath Ghosh and Jorg Bitzigeio will help us choose the best players available in the draft,”  Chennai Lions owners Harini Yadav and Karishma Yadav said in a joint statement.

Having their coaches in line, the teams can begin their preparations for the UTT Season 4 Player Draft to be held early next month. The franchise-based league is promoted by Niraj Bajaj and Vita Dani under the auspices of the Table Tennis Federation of India.

The upcoming season of the league will be played at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune.

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