The good news for the Japan Warriors is that they have finally been able to snap their losing streak at the 2015 International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). The players showed a lot of co-ordination amongst them to earn their first win of the season in their opening match of the New Delhi leg at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
But it wasn’t easy by any means, as they had to claw their way back from two sets down and steal the 24-21 victory from the grasp of the UAE Royals. Unfortunately for them, they next face a team who are riding ridiculously high on confidence.
The defending champions Indian Aces have just hammered the Philippine Mavericks 30-12 – the biggest winning margin at this IPTL. With the arrival of WTA Finals champion, Agnieszka Radwanska, the Rafael Nadal-led Aces juggernaut looks set to crush everything in its path.
(For tickets to the Indian Aces matches, click here).
Here’s a look at how the five sets might unfold:
Women’s singles: Agnieszka Radwanska vs Kurumi Nara (probable)
Form-wise as well as experience-wise, Indian Aces’ Agnieszka Radwanska has a huge advantage in this set. She has played the 23-year-old Kurumi Nara twice and has not conceded more than four games on either occasion.
The Japanese looked like a bundle of nerves in her opening set of the Delhi leg, spraying errors all over the court against Ana Ivanovic. That led her to being substituted by the more experienced Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, but even that did not help the Warriors’ cause as they slumped to a 2-6 defeat.
Radwanska, on the other hand, made her IPTL debut on Thursday and whatever jet lag she had, she was able to brush off by the second game of her set against Jarmila Gajdosova. After posting a brutal 6-1 win, the Pole should be looking to continue her winning momentum.
Men’s singles: Rafael Nadal vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert (probable)
US Open men’s doubles champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert was the architect of Japan Warriors’ maiden IPTL win on Thursday. He contributed to three set wins over the Royals but most impressive was how he carved out a 6-4 victory over the World No. 6 Tomas Berdych.
The Czech was heavily favoured in that tie but the Frenchman played a brilliant match. His big serve and tactical acumen were on full display as he outfoxed Berdych. He would surely like to repeat that same performance against the World No. 5 Rafael Nadal on Friday.
But that is a tall order for the 24-year-old, who lost his only meeting with the 14-time Grand Slam champion by a score of 1-6, 1-6. The Spanish ace, meanwhile, was off to a fast start against Edouard Roger-Vasselin when the Aces and Mavericks faced off. Even though he did have some minor hiccups towards the end, Rafa still poses a unique challenge for the young Herbert.
To add to that, Nadal would have the vociferous support of the entire IGI Stadium, which makes Herbert’s job even tougher.
Men’s doubles: Nadal/Bopanna vs Paes/Herbert (probable)
With home hero Leander Paes being on the Japan side, the Warriors will have some of the crowd support as well. The 17-time Grand Slam champion will be eager to mesmerize the IGI Stadium with his exquisite touch at the net and clever shotmaking.
Herbert and Paes make quite a competent team and they exhibited their skills efficiently during their 6-3 win over Daniel Nestor and Tomas Berdych on Thursday. However, Rafael Nadal and Rohan Bopanna, who played together for the first time today, looked equally comfortable with each other.
Bopanna’s devastating serve perfectly complemented Nadal’s nimble footwork and powerful groundstrokes, which gave them the 6-4 victory. This should be a well-matched contest and has the potential to go all the way to the tie-break.
Mixed doubles: Mirza/Bopanna vs Lucic-Baroni/Herbert (probable)
Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna’s presence easily tilts the balance in favour of the Aces. The Indian duo have been at the top of their game and have tasted defeat just once in four sets.
Mirza has come into IPTL 2 riding on 10 doubles title wins this season and has translated that confidence into a total of four wins for the Indian outfit. Bopanna too dazzled at the ATP World Tour Finals where he reached the final alongside Florin Mergea.
They make an absolutely solid team, ready to tackle any kind of opposition. That would not be welcome news for Herbert and Lucic-Baroni. That said, the French-Croatian pair did play some breathtaking shots to get the better of the more accomplished Royals duo of Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic.
Maybe that can inspire them to stretch this set into a deciding tie-break.
Legends’ singles: Fabrice Santoro vs Thomas Enqvist (probable)
This is a battle between an IPTL veteran and a rank newcomer. The 43-year-old Fabrice Santoro, a winner of three doubles Majors, has been a part of the Indian Aces team since last year. Aptly named the ‘Magician’, the Frenchman has been conjuring up magic on the court to take the Aces to victory. He is well-set and thoroughly acquainted with this format by now.
On the other hand, former Australian Open runner-up Thomas Enqvist, who is a replacement for the injured Marat Safin, is still getting used to the innovative rules. He has played two sets so far and been vanquished in both.
Even though the Swede holds a dominant 3-0 career head-to-head record over the Frenchman, it is Santoro who looks more likely to come up trumps in this set under the circumstances.
Note: The singles and doubles match-ups are as per our assumptions for the most obvious player combinations. They are subject to change if one or more of the players are unavailable from either team, or if the team managements decide to change the combinations based on current form.Published 11 Dec 2015, 10:04 IST