Roger Federer, Kristina Mladenovic and Goran IvanisevicThe high point of the UAE Royals’ 2015 International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) Dubai sojourn came on the last day of their campaign at home when they prevailed 26-22 against the Japan Warriors. It was pleasing to see the one-time table-toppers finally clicking as a team, as the members lived up to the expectations. After the Kobe leg, when the UAE franchise led the Team Standings, they suddenly appeared to lose steam, building up leads but failing to close out matches. That was the chief reason for their downfall against the Japan Warriors, the Philippine Mavericks and the Singapore Slammers. Even the presence of 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer could not help in turning around their fortunes as the World No. 3 surprisingly succumbed in each of the six sets in which he has so far participated.But against the Warriors on Wednesday, the Royals finally exhibited flashes of the brilliance and excellent co-ordination that was long expected of them. Gone were the error-riddled games that they played in their 21-24 shocker of a loss to the Warriors at New Delhi. This time they were ready for the challenge and attacked from the word go. They won three of their sets – men’s singles, men’s doubles and women’s singles while the two they lost – mixed doubles and legends’ singles – were close ones. But what stood out was the changed body language of the entire team. They looked refreshed and rejuvenated and hungry for a win. Most importantly, they were thoroughly enjoying themselves on the court again.Here's a look at their best moments from the home leg:
#1 Marin Cilic was the star of the show during the win
2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic was the star of the show as he carried the team to two set wins on Wednesday.
Putting behind the setback in each of the three doubles sets he had played till then, Cilic came out firing in the singles against Warriors’ Philipp Kohlschreiber. He thundered eight winners, won 100% of the net points and broke his German opponent twice. That helped him get a 6-3 win for the Royals.
The Croat also paired up with Daniel Nestor for a close win in the men’s doubles against Japan’s solid team of Leander Paes and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. It was a tough contest as the Indo-French combine refused to give up, but the Royals duo held their nerve well to come through 7-2 in the shootout.
The third set in that tie that went in favour of the hosts was delivered by Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman put up a determined show and exhibited her quick reflexes to outclass her Belgian opponent, Kirsten Flipkens 6-2.
#2 Mladenovic does her bit
Besides the above-mentioned tie, the Royals lost their other two Dubai encounters against the Mavericks and Slammers by close margins – 24-26 and 24-27 respectively. During the showdown with the Philippine team, Mladenovic was the only Royals player to win her set, as she brought forth her aggressive game to reign supreme 6-2 over Ajla Tomljanovic.
Even against the Slammers, it was once again the World No. 29 who was instrumental in giving the UAE outfit a win. The Frenchwoman teamed up with Daniel Nestor to knock out the pair of Nick Kyrgios and Belinda Bencic 6-3 in the mixed doubles set.
#3 Tweeners galore
The UAE Royals have emerged as the team with the most between-the-legs shots, better known as ‘tweeners’, at the 2015 IPTL. And that is quite fitting for the team which boasts of the Tweener Master, Roger Federer.
The Dubai crowd was treated to a host of tweeners by the home team during their three-day stay. One of them came during the legends’ singles set between the Royals and the Mavericks match. Goran Ivanisevic executed the shot perfectly but unfortunately lost the point due to the athleticism of his much younger rival, James Blake.
Still, it was an effort worthy appreciating from the 44-year-old.
But it is the 22-year-old Kristina Mladenovic who truly stood out with her series of tweeners. TheFrenchwoman hit multiple tweeners that were a pure joy to watch. Needless to say, it must have brought a lot of delight to Federer to see his oft-used shot being performed by other players with equal panache.
Mladenovic’s fondness for the tweener, quite deservedly, earned her the moniker of ‘Tweener Queen’ as revealed by the UAE Royals player during a candid interview held at the end of the Dubai leg.
Here’s hoping she can keep conjuring up more such tricks on the court to help the UAE Royals notch more wins in their remaining few matches at Singapore!