A little tinkering with the format can lead to massive entertainment, terrific team bonding, and a real field day for the fans. That was sufficiently proven by IPTL in its first season, and this time around, it has opened to even bigger response.
The star studded five-city league was off to a flyer as far as Indian Aces were concerned, while Singapore Slammers began on the wrong foot. Reeling from the loss of Novak Djokovic, their star player, Slammers managed to rope in Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, but neither of these players is available in the Japan leg, leaving them a little weak in singles.
The Slammers lost to Obi UAE Royals by what could be called a very decisive margin, 20-26. Nick Kyrgios was the only one to win his set, and the Slammers will be hoping that the infusion of two star players would mean a much better challenge against Indian Aces.
The Indian Aces held their own in a very tightly contested match, scraping past Legendari Japan Warriors 26-25. Interestingly, the Aces lost more sets than they won but they have their legend Fabrice Santoro, also doubling up as coach, to thank for winning 6-2 against Marat Safin, which proved to be decisive.
(For tickets to the Indian Aces matches, click here).
Here's a look ahead at how tomorrow's match is likely to unfold:
Men's singles: Gael Monfils vs Nick Kyrgios (probable)
These two players have only met once before, with Monfils proving to be the better man on clay. Both Monfils and Kyrgios are fiery characters and play an entertaining brand of tennis, keeping the crowds entertained.
On current form the Australian will be the favourite, having won both of his matches so far - against Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic. Monfils, on the other hand, lost to the Warriors’ Kei Nishikori 4-6 on Day 1.
Earlier this year the 20-year-old Kyrgios, currently ranked 30, became the first teenager since Roger Federer to reach two Grand Slam quarterfinals, when he reached the last 8 stage at Australian Open. Monfils meanwhile is very popular for his flashy style of play, switching from defence to offence very quickly with his strong groundstrokes.
It will be a battle of flair and power with Kyrgios using innovative strategies like standing way behind the baseline, and Monfils attempting cheeky drop shots mixed in with his forehand blasts. The Indian Aces will consider it a huge boost if Monfils manages to pull off the win in this set.
Women's singles: Samantha Stosur vs Belinda Bencic (probable)
While 14th-ranked Swiss player Bencic lost to Ana Ivanovic 3-6 in her previous singles outing, the 27th-ranked Samantha Stosur from Australia lost to Maria Sharapova 4-6 in a closely fought set that went on for 32 minutes. The two players are dead even in the head-to-head, having won a match each against each other in the past.
Purely on the basis of ranking you would be tempted to tip Bencic for the win in this set, but Stosur showed flashes of her powerful game against the in-form Sharapova. That outing might hold the 31-year-old Australian in good stead this time around against her teenaged competitor from Switzerland who won her first WTA title this year.
Stosur is an experienced tour veteran, having won the US Open title in 2011, and she could trouble Bencic with her serve, especially since they are playing on her favourite surface -hardcourt.
Men's doubles: Monfils/Bopanna vs Brown/Melo (probable)
This will be an interesting match-up considering Monfils and Brown have partnered with each other in the past, which means they will have a good understanding of each other’s style. Brown shot into the limelight this year with an upset win over Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, and he has a huge game that can trouble anyone on his day.
On paper this looks like an even contest considering Marcelo Melo is the number 1 ranked doubles player, and on the other side is the 35-year-old Bopanna who is ranked 9th on the back of some good performances. Bopanna's attacking game will combine well with Monfils' versatility, and the two enjoyed plenty of success last year too.
Brown on the other hand is more of a serve-and-volley player and Melo is known for his net-rushing tendencies too. Melo is quick but vulnerable to body shots, something Monfils and Bopanna will be likely to exploit.
The Brown/Melo duo have lost both of their outings so far this season, whereas the Monfils/Bopanna pair won their only set 6-4 against Nishikori/Herbert. Advantage Indian Aces.
Mixed doubles: Bopanna/Mirza vs Melo/Pliskova (probable)
Sania Mirza has had a rocking 2015; she is the No.1 ranked women’s doubles player, having won Wimbledon and the US Open with Martina Hingis. The Hyderabad girl has a massive forehand and as a baseline player will have a lot of firepower to add to Bopanna’s big-serving game.
The Indian duo duo lost to Sharapova/Herbert 5-6 in a very tough outing on Day 1., but Melo/Pliskova had a worse opening match, losing 3-6 against Mladenovic/Nestor of the UAE Royals. Mirza and Bopanna will have to guard against Melo’s style of playing close to the net, which will perfectly complement the big serving and big hitting game of Pliskova.
The 23-year-old Czech is an accomplished singles player, with an impressive ranking of 11, and that could well make a big difference. But Mirza and Bopanna have played together a lot in the past, and that experience should help them deal with their opponents' weapons.
Men’s legend singles: Fabrice Santoro v Carlos Moya (probable)
Fabrice Santoro, coach of the Indian Aces, holds the record for most Grand Slam single appearances and is often referred to as 'Magician' for his trick shots. That also makes him a crowd favourite, and he has wowed the spectators all through the IPTL, enjoying the most success among all the legends.
Against a younger Marat Safin, Santoro won 6-2 on Day 1, helping the Aces just edge out Warriors in their first outing. On the other hand Moya, a former French Open champion, has lost both of his matches in this season so far. He would have to bring his A game to the court if he has to beat Santoro who is known to be ambidextrous, capable of playing a left-handed forehand even though he is predominantly right-handed.
Santoro has a good backhand too, and in general looks far too strong against his Spanish opponent. But Moya, thanks to his amazing performances on clay, managed to reach No. 1 in singles briefly, and should be able to mount a serious challenge against Santoro if he plays to his peak potential.
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.