Home side Nagpur Orangers came into today's tie on the back of a loss to the V Chennai Warriors from what appeared to be a winning position in their tie yesterday. That unexpected result meant that the Orangers were left with the unenviable task of having to win their last match to qualify for the finals.
Hyderabad Aces, on the other hand, were coming off a win in their last game, and seemed to have recovered from their momentary lapse against Nagpur at home, their only loss of the season before this match.
As it turned out, Nagpur couldn't use the home advantage effectively enough, and although they fought till the very end, Ivo Karlovic and his serve proved too difficult to overcome. Here's a look at how each of the sets unfolded:
1. Legends’ singles: Alex Corretja (Nagpur Orangers) vs Thomas Johansson (Hyderabad Aces)
Corretja beat his counterpart Rainer Schuettler of the V Chennai Warriors yesterday with some aggressive tennis, and was up today against Grand Slam and Olympic winning-Swede Thomas Johansson of the Hyderabad Aces. Johansson was widely expected to win, and played a fast-serving, strong game against his Spanish rival, who did not bow down to pressure either.
The Orangers’ legend broadened his early lead as the Swede committed two double faults to give the home player a 3-1 lead. Looking down on his luck and unlikely to win at that point, Johansson clawed back from the brink to go 2-3, and then truly got himself back in the game with a break of serve.
Tied at 4 games apiece, the two went to a tiebreak, which was won by Johansson 5-2; with that, he took the first set 5-4.
Result: Johansson def. Corretja 5-4
2. Women’s singles: Jelena Jankovic (Nagpur Orangers) vs Martina Hingis (Hyderabad Aces)
Likely the most looked-forward to match of the evening, the clash of the former World No. 1s promised to be a good one. Hingis and Jankovic had already played one another at this year’s CTL, at the Aces’ home draw in Hyderabad, with the Swiss losing in that meeting.
Hingis held and then drew first blood to take a 2-0 lead over Jankovic, but the Serb returned the favour to break Hingis and narrow her lead. She then clinched the next two games as well, taking a 3-2 lead over the Swiss, who then broke back to restore parity.
Hingis then quickly went to 4-3, saving three break points in the process, to force the Serb to serve to stay in the set. But Jankovic remained steady and she managed to take the second set to a tiebreak as well, winning it in dominant fashion – five points to three.
The teams were now level at nine games apiece.
Result: Jankovic def Hingis 5-4
3. Mixed doubles: Lopez/Jankovic (Nagpur Orangers) vs Karlovic/Hingis (Hyderabad Aces)
The Aces looked immensely strong coming into this, with the genius of Hingis paired with the intimidating, powerful serve of Karlovic. But the set went on fairly uneventfully with each team holding serve as the pairs reached three games all.
That's when visitors struck; Hingis engaged in a brilliant rally with her female counterpart Jankovic, before the Aces finally broke their opponents to go into the driver's seat. They then held serve comfortably to seal the set 5-3, giving the Aces a 14-11 lead in the overall games tally.
Result: Karlovic/Hingis def. Lopez/Jankovic 5-3
4. Men’s doubles: Lopez/Sharan (Nagpur) vs Neduncheziyan/Karlovic (Hyderabad)
The penultimate match of the day was a thriller as all four players were on top of their game, with a finals berth on the line. The power serves of Karlovic and Lopez were complemented by the quickness and reflexes of Jeevan Neduncheziyan and Divij Sharan.
Both teams were neck-and-neck throughout the set, but Nagpur were on the verge of taking the set at 4-3. The Croatian giant Karlovic then made a lightning-quick play to make it 4-4 and send it into a tie-break.
Karlovic would put the visitors up 3-0 with his serve, but the hosts weren’t about to be outdone at home. Lopez and Sharan used the court well to equalize 4-4 in the tie-break as well.
The Spaniard then won the set for the team by capitalising on Neduncheziyan's returns, winning the tie-break and the set 5-4. Despite losing the set though, Hyderabad still led 18-17.
Result: Lopez/Sharan def. Neduncheziyan/Karlovic 5-4
5. Men’s singles: Feliciano Lopez (Nagpur) vs Ivo Karlovic (Hyderabad)
With a place in the final closer than ever, the deciding contest wasn’t expected to be a brief affair. The battle of the big servers saw neither giving an inch, with the scores level all the way through. Each player matched every hold of serve by the other.
With the score at 3-4, Karlovic held to force a tie-break. The shootout wasn't any less entertaining than the set, with the score eventually settling at 4-4 again! But the big man from Croatia kept his cool to win the tie-break 5-4, winning the set and the match for his team.
The Hyderabad Aces will now face the Punjab Marshalls in the final.
Result: Karlovic def. Lopez 5-4