The last Champions Tennis League (CTL) group match before the final will see Nagpur Orangers clashing with Hyderabad Aces at the Nagpur District Hard Court Tennis Association grounds on Friday.
This contest presents both sides with the opportunity of advancing to Sunday’s summit clash against the unbeaten Punjab Marshalls. Nagpur's final aspirations received a jolt when they lost to the V Chennai Warriors today; they are now tied with Hyderabad on the same number of points.
This means that the last match of the group stage is a virtual semifinal; whoever wins it will move ahead and book a place in that final.
Who will take it? Can Martina Hingis inspire the Aces to reverse their home leg’s 20-22 defeat to the Orangers, or will the home team continue with their supreme form? We try to find out:
Women’s singles: Jelena Jankovic vs Martina Hingis
When two former World No.1s cross swords, it always promises to produce something spectacular. And that's exactly what transpired when the Aces’ Martina Hingis and Orangers’ Jelena Jankovic met earlier in the tournament.
It was the Swiss Miss who pulled the strings early and raced away to a 2-0 lead. But Jankovic, who reached the 2008 US Open final, has always been one of the biggest fighters on the WTA Tour. She broke back and levelled the score at 2-2. The Serb’s blazing backhand came alive after that and propelled her to a 5-3 win.
How much different can Hingis make it this time? In terms of power, Jankovic has a big advantage but one can never discount the Swiss’ chances.
The five-time Major champion, who is currently dominating the doubles circuit, did show some of her trademark silken skills as she beat V Chennai Warriors’ Heather Watson 5-2 in Hyderabad’s last match.
Can that help her turn around her fortunes this time?
Legends’ singles: Alex Corretja vs Thomas Johansson
The legends’ showdown presents another chance to watch two great baseliners battling it out.
The last encounter between the Aces’ 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson and the Orangers’ Alex Corretja – a French Open runner -up in 1998 and 2001 – saw them engaging in some riveting ball-striking duels which the Swede won 5-3.
Johansson got the better of the Spaniard through some accurate placement of the ball and some wonderful angles. He has been in immaculate form at this event and has won all his three sets so far, playing a key role in Hyderabad’s two wins at the 2015 CTL
It is tough to bet against Johansson in this set.
Men’s singles: Feliciano Lopez vs Ivo Karlovic
A face-off between two players with mammoth serves is always expected to go all the way to the tie-break. It was thus no surprise when the last set between Ivo Karlovic and Feliciano Lopez got decided in a breaker, which the Spanish serve-and-volley expert won.
Perhaps the outcome was a little unexpected as the Croatian has been dominating their rivalry in recent times; Lopez has not managed to beat the 6’11’’ giant in a professional match since 2005. But the beauty of a team competition is that it motivates every member to bring out their very best in crunch situations.
The 17th ranked Lopez can also count on some vital crowd support at Nagpur that can help him lift his game. But he was unwell against the Chennai Warriors, and failed to take the court for his singles set against Fernando Verdasco. Will he recover in time for tomorrow's clash? The Orangers will be desperately hoping that he does.
Men’s doubles: Lopez/Sharan vs Karlovic/Neduncheziyan
Feliciano Lopez and Divij Sharan have thrived as a pair at the 2015 CTL. Both have tremendous experience in doubles with Sharan being one of India’s premier doubles exponents and Lopez also reaching a career-high ranking of No. 35.
The left hand-right hand combination has done wonders as they have returned superbly and held their nerve impressively under pressure. They broke the mighty Karlovic serve in their last outing against the Hyderabad Aces, which should automatically give them a boost ahead of this tie.
Having said that, breaking the Karlovic serve twice in two sets is a tall order for any team, and it doesn’t happen often. Chances are that this set will head to a tie-break, and then it can be anybody’s game!
Mixed doubles: Jankovic/Lopez vs Hingis/Karlovic
Having Hingis in a doubles team has an obvious advantage. While her partner Karlovic and Nagpur Orangers’ Feliciano Lopez kept the scoreboard ticking by dint of their big serves, it was the Swiss’ resourcefulness and finesse at the net that won Aces the set 5-4.
It would be logical to envisage the Aces emerging victorious in their away tie as well. But Lopez’s amazing volleys coupled with 2007 Wimbledon mixed doubles champion Jelena Jankovic’s powerful backhands might have a thing to say. And Karlovic/Hingis need to be wary of that.