After some electrifying Group B action, it’s time to focus once again on Group A, as the Champions Tennis League Tour 2015 moves northward to Chandigarh. A riveting match awaits Indian tennis fans on Friday as Group A’s top two teams – the unbeaten Raipur Rangers and Punjab Marshalls – cross swords.
Both are coming into this tie having registered an away win against the Mumbai Tennis Masters. Can the home team Punjab bank on the ever-dependable Marcos Baghdatis to displace the Raipur Rangers from the top?
Let’s find out how the five different matches are likely to unfold:
Women’s singles: Elina Svitolina vs Alize Cornet
21-year-old Elina Svitolina is easily one of the most talented youngsters on the WTA Tour. Her maiden Slam quarterfinal appearance – at the French Open this year – stands testimony to her hunger and determination.
Incidentally, it was at that same tournament that she last met her next CTL opponent, Alize Cornet. Svitolina beat the Frenchwoman in straight sets; when the World No. 19 can find the power and angles on her forehand, she is a dangerous opponent to tackle.
However, the Ukrainian player hasn’t had the best of starts to her CTL campaign as she went down 2-5 to US Open champion Flavia Pennetta of the Mumbai Masters in Punjab's first tie. World No. 42 Cornet, on the other hand, survived an early exchange of breaks to shut the door on Pennetta 5-2.
Cornet is the more experienced of the two in this match, having participated in last year’s CTL as well. Perhaps that will motivate her to raise her level when the going gets tough.
Legends’ singles: Greg Rusedski vs Thomas Muster
Former French Open champion Thomas Muster and former US Open runner-up Greg Rusedski succumbed to losses to the same man – Richard Krajicek – in their opening assignments. Both the legends would look to rebound from that reverse and give a leg up to their respective teams in Chandigarh.
The left-handed Brit Rusedski is the one who went closer with Krajicek in their contest, losing the set 4-5. The match did give an opportunity to the Indian fans to witness some wonderful serve-and-volley tennis from the two net-rushers, as Rusedski kept battling hard.
His next match will be a clash of playing styles as Muster – another lefty – is the quintessential dirtballer. The Austrian former World No.1 – once dubbed the ‘King of Clay’ – is more at home in longer rallies and counterpunching while Rusedski likes to keep the points short.
This certainly promises to be a fascinating encounter, but Rusedski’s 3-0 head-to-head record over the Austrian might tilt the balance in the home team’s favour.
Men’s singles: Marcos Baghdatis vs Roberto Bautista Agut
Marcos Baghdatis has quickly become the talisman for the Punjab Marshalls. The Cypriot, who has time and again stressed that he enjoys playing in India, has been the most outstanding player at the CTL. Last year’s MVP, Baghdatis began this year’s challenge from where he left off in 2014 and delivered three wins for his team in their opening tie against Mumbai Masters.
With such an impact player in the team, Punjab Marshalls definitely have reason to feel confident. However, World No.25 Roberto Bautista Agut was one of the chief architects of Raipur Ranger’s thunderous 23-14 victory over the Mumbai team. He too won all his three matches, and this match will see a showdown between two players high on momentum.
Interestingly, these two have never faced each other as professionals, which makes this match-up even more intriguing. Bautista Agut certainly has the tools to trouble Baghdatis with his variety and low shots. But will that be enough to upstage the former Australian Open runner-up who has a penchant of winning clutch matches at the CTL?
Men’s doubles: Baghdatis/Myneni vs Bautista Agut/Ramanathan
Once again, this tie pits two teams who won their opening matches with consummate ease. While Saketh Myneni brought out his service bombs to help his team cruise to a 5-3 win, the in-form Ramkumar Ramanathan produced a groundstrokes blitzkrieg to secure a 5-2 win for the Rangers.
The 28-year-old Asian Games gold medallist Myneni is the more accomplished player in doubles, having reached a career-high of 118 this month. He has won two Challenger titles in doubles this season and if he can keep his serve going, it would be most welcome for the home team. Besides, he also has able support from Baghdatis, whose firepower from the baseline can make a lot of difference.
Bautista Agut’s finesse and volleys along with Ramanathan’s feisty groundstrokes can stretch this tie, but Baghdatis and Myneni look the more compact of the two teams.
Mixed doubles: Baghdatis/Svitolina vs Bautista Agut/Cornet
Marcos Baghdatis would be looking to have a clean sheet once again when he turns up for the Punjab team. While Svitolina had a few nerves in her debut match, she should be freer and raring to go in this set, especially if she manages to win her singles set against Cornet.
Svitolina's solid baseline play can come in handy in this contest. To add to that, Baghdatis and Svitolina can count on some vociferous home support as well. Cornet and Bautista Agut too won their last match and would not be an easy pair to put away. That gives this contest the potential to be a truly enthralling encounter.