If one were to be asked who the title favourites were prior to the Singapore leg, Indian Aces would have been the unanimous choice, with all odds pointing to them repeating last year’s storming performance. However, going into the final of the second season, it is the Slammers who hold the momentum, form and confidence after a late surge in the last few legs.
The Aces have witnessed a dip in their form at the worst possible moment, and would be on the backfoot in the finale. But they still finished on top of the table thanks to an excellent start and middle, with eight wins in 11 matches and a game-win percentage of 54.1, which would give them some confidence.
Singapore Slammers have seven wins from 11 matches with a game-win percentage of 52.2. In fact, in a precursor to the finals, the Slammers defeated Indian Aces 27-21 yesterday, and they won the match prior to that against the Aces as well, 27-16.
That pretty much makes Slammers the outright favourites to dismantle the title holders. But the Aces are defending champions for a reason, and they certainly won’t go down without a fight. Here’s a look at how the last tie of 2015 is likely to unfold:
Legends’ singles: Fabrice Santoro vs Carlos Moya
Carlos Moya clearly holds the edge in this one, having defeated Santoro three out of three times in this season so far. He won the first 6-5, the second through a walkover and the final one, 6-2. Santoro, who doubles up as coach for the Indian Aces, needs to find a new way to counter the former World No. 1 since his usual tricks haven’t worked.
The Frenchman will take heart from the fact that he overcame similar troubles to defeat the big-serving Mark Philippoussis of the Mavericks. Interestingly, Santoro held the edge on the professional tour against Moya, winning three out of the four times the two faced each other.
But Moya has shown increasingly strong baseline play as the tournament has progressed, also defeating Ivanisevic and Philippoussis in his recent matches, and would be the favourite to win against Santoro.
Men’s singles: Bernard Tomic vs Stan Wawrinka
Unless a miracle has, Wawrinka has this one in the bag. The hard-hitting Swiss player, also the World No. 4, is currently tied 1-1 in his head-to-head matches against Tomic. But the 23-year-old Tomic, currently ranked No. 18, hasn’t had an impressive season so far at the IPTL.
He lost 1-6 to Nick Kyrgios and 5-6 to Wawrinka in their most recent match of the season. Tomic has won just one of his last four sets, against Ivo Karlovic.
The Australian, who has had a good year in 2015, needs to come up with something exceptional to beat Wawrinka who has moulded himself into one of the most complete players around. Armed with a great return and an excellent backhand, Wawrinka is the only player this year to beat Novak Djokovic in a Major, winning the French Open and preventing the Serb’s Career and Calendar Slam.
Women’ singles: Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Belinda Bencic (Probable)
Kuznetsova has only just joined the IPTL party, coming in as a replacement for the undefeated Agnieszka Radwanska. The two-time Slam champion got off to a bad start though, losing 2-6 against the 18-year-old Belinda Bencic.
In the final, the Russian might be up against either the big-serving Carolina Pliskova from Czech Republic, ranked 11th, or the 14th-ranked Bencic from Switzerland. Kuznetsova’s defence might prove tricky for the slower-moving Pliskova, so it’s likely that the Slammers will persist with the Swiss teenager for the final.
Bencic’s variety and finesse will be tough for Kuznetsova to deal with, but a player who has won two Slams knows how to figure out a way to win.
Men’s doubles: Bopanna/Dodig vs Melo/Kyrgios (Probable)
Although Melo, one of the top-ranked doubles players in the world, forms an intimidating pair with the Australian Kyrgios, who has been in excellent form this season, they lost their most recent set to Bopanna/Dodig 5-6. Dodig/Tomic paired up in another Aces-Slammers contest, understandably losing 4-6 to the Murray-Melo pair.
Dodig/Bopanna have been the more accomplished Aces pair this season, winning previously against the Melo/Brown pair 6-4. Bopanna-Dodig also won against the Mavericks and the Warriors in shoot-outs, and have displayed immense focus in the big moments this season.
The Slammers had gone with the Wawrinka/Melo pair against the Royals but Federer pulled off a win after losing several sets himself. Interestingly, the Melo/Kyrgios pair hasn’t been amongst the most consistent doubles’ teams this season, also losing their set against the Warriors in the Delhi leg.
Bopanna and Dodig will be the favourites considering they have played together more often, won together more often and complement each other well with Bopanna’s baseline skills tying up nicely with Dodig’s volleying at the net.
Mixed Doubles: Bopanna/Mirza vs Brown/Pliskova (Probable)
After having dominated most of the season, the Indian pair of Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza are losing some steam late in the tournament. On the other hand, after losing a lot of their early matches, the Slammers’ Brown and Pliskova have combined well lately.
This will be an interesting tie, considering the two pairs have played each other twice very recently and stand at 1-1 each. The Brown/Pliskova pair won their set against the Bopanna/Mirza pair in the Dubai leg but the latter took the advantage back winning 6-4 in Singapore. The Slammers’ pair also won against the formidable pairing of Federer and Mladenovic 6-3.
Bopanna/Mirza, who have been a little up and down lately, lost another set against the Warriors’ pair of Herbert/Flipkens. However, given Sania’s form in finals in 2015, it is unlikely she will give away even an inch. The No. 1 women’s doubles player can match Bopanna in the power stakes to overcome Brown and Pliskova.
That said, the Slammers’ pair boast of a better all-round game, with Brown playing serve and volley to complement Pliskova’s blistering groundstrokes.
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 20 Dec 2015, 12:49 IST