After 12 days of thrilling drama and riveting action, it’s down to the final match of the 2015 Champions Tennis League (CTL). It’s one shot to glory for both the Hyderabad Aces and the Punjab Marshalls as they clash at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad on Sunday.
Who will take it? Can the Aces bank on the crowd support and the lethal serve of Ivo Karlovic to come away the winners, or will Marcos Baghdatis emulate his 2014 heroics and inspire the unbeaten Marshalls to emerge as champions?
We take a look at how the sets in the final showdown might pan out:
Women’s singles: Martina Hingis vs Elina Svitolina
There’s an age gap of 14 years between the two players in this set as the 2015 CTL’s oldest and the youngest WTA players square off against each other. But there’s no dearth of fighting spirit in either.
21-year-old Elina Svitolina has displayed why she is regarded as one of the most talented youngsters on the WTA Tour right now. The Ukrainian, who reached the 2015 French Open quarter-finals, rose to the occasion after her defeat to the US Open champion Flavia Pennetta on the opening day. Her forehands have found their mark since then and her hunger and willpower have shone through in her three subsequent victories.
At 35 years, Martina Hingis might be dominating the doubles circuit, but at the 2015 CTL she has been a revelation in singles too. The five-time Slam champion and former World No. 1 won two sets and in her two losses – both against Nagpur Orangers’ Jelena Jankovic – she fought admirably well, and conceded her last set against the Serb only in a tie-break.
Hingis would surely like to bring in her finesse and all-court skills to the final, but the firepower, spunk and the youthful exuberance of Svitolina might prove a bridge too far for the Swiss Miss.
Legends’ singles: Thomas Johansson vs Greg Rusedski
This set pits two legends with contrasting playing styles against each other, and both of them arrive into the final in sizzling form. The 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson has been unbeaten at this event while the 1997 US Open runner-up Greg Rusedski has not lost since his opening match defeat.
Rusedski’s serve-and-volley expertise has played a key role in each of Punjab’s four wins so far. He has adapted to the Indian conditions very well and will try to give the early advantage to the visitors.
But his opponent in the final, Thomas Johansson, has looked slightly better. His strong serves and solid baseline play have been very effective, which have contributed to a flawless four wins out of four sets so far.
Form-wise, the Swede has to be favoured, and what might further aid him is his commanding 8-4 head-to-head record over the Briton. However, only five of their 12 meetings have ended in straight sets, so an enthralling set is in store.
Men’s singles: Ivo Karlovic vs Marcos Baghdatis
When two of the best players of the tournament lock horns, we can certainly expect is a cracker of a contest. Hyderabad’s Ivo Karlovic so far leads the Players’ Standings, having summoned his devastating serve en route to capturing 56 games for his team.
On the other hand last year’s MVP, Marcos Baghdatis, is currently in the fourth spot, having clinched 52 games for the Marshalls.
For Baghdatis, it is a very familiar situation as the 2006 Australian Open runner-up loves playing in India and had steered the Pune Marathas to title glory in CTL’s inaugural season. For Ivo Karlovic, this is the first time in the final but he would have the boisterous crowd behind him to lift his spirits.
The 6’11’’ Croatian’s imposing serve is a threat every time he plays, and it turned out to be so as he snuffed out Nagpur Orangers’ chances in a nail-biting finish in the Aces’ last group assignment. The World No. 23 comes into the final with perfect momentum and will be keen to replicate that form.
But there’s a cause for concern for the ace king. He has lost his last two matches to the Cypriot, and both were this year. Could that prove detrimental to the Aces’ chances?
Men’s doubles: Karlovic/Nedunchezhiyan vs Baghdatis/Myneni
The holder of 10,000+ aces, Ivo Karlovic will meet his match in men’s doubles as he faces Saketh Myneni on the opposite side of the net. The double MVP duo of Baghdatis and Myneni have complemented each other well, with the Indian’s explosive power and the Cypriot’s smart use of angles leading the Punjab team to three set wins.
Even when the Cypriot has looked out-of-sorts, as he was in his last match, Myneni has come to the rescue with his big-hitting game.
Karlovic and Nedunchezhiyan, meanwhile, have combined to deliver two wins out of four sets for the hosts. Needless to say, it has been the titanic serve of the Croat which was instrumental in those triumphs.
Once again, serve will be the order of the day and this set looks likely to head to a tie-break. However, the Punjab duo looks in a slightly better position and they also have the experience of playing last year’s final. Maybe that will help them sneak this set out.
Mixed doubles: Karlovic/Hingis vs Baghdatis/Svitolina
When the ever-resourceful Martina Hingis is in any team, suffice to say that the advantage lies with that team. The holder of 15 doubles Grand Slams has been spot on with her guile and shot placement and has carried the Aces to an impeccable four wins. And she also has the colossal Karlovic serve to depend upon for added support.
On paper, this set should go to the home side. Anything other than that would be a big upset. Having said that, the Cypriot-Ukrainian combine has reigned supreme twice at this CTL and would not go away without a fight.
The set surely promises some entertaining tennis to keep the spectators engaged!Published 05 Dec 2015, 20:01 IST