Both teams came into this tie on the back of wins, with the Japan Warriors ending their losing streak as they edged out the UAE Royals in Delhi. But it was the Indian Aces who looked to dominate ahead of the match, having routed the Philippine Mavericks 30-12 by playing a renewed, refreshed game buoyed by the presence of former World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
WTA Finals winner Agnieszka Radwanska also joined the team’s ranks yesterday and her presence gave the team an added boost. With so much firepower in their ranks, it was no surprise that the Aces notched up yet another victory, this time snuffing out the Warriors’ hopes.
(For tickets to the Indian Aces matches, click here).
Here’s how the tie unfolded:
Mixed doubles: Mirza/Bopanna (Indian Aces) vs Lucic-Baroni/Herbert (Japan Warriors)
This was tilted heavily in favour of the Indian Aces pair considering their vast combined experience and the fact that Mirza is currently the world’s top-ranked doubles player.
The Warriors’ Herbert is himself an accomplished exponent of doubles, and together with Lucic-Baroni beat the Grand Slam-winning UAE Royals pair of Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic prior to today’s match.
Although the Aces were widely expected to rout their competitors, and it certainly seemed to look that way midway through the set, Herbert and Lucic-Baroni managed just as many aces as Mirza and Bopanna, successfully breaking them during the course of the set.
The French-Croat doubles pair also managed more winners than their rivals, and although they eventually lost, it was by a far slimmer margin than expected. The Indian Aces’ 6-4 victory took the team to an identical lead in the tie.
Result: Mirza/Bopanna def. Lucic-Baroni/Herbert 6-4
Women’s singles: Agnieszka Radwanska (Indian Aces) vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni sub. Kurumi Nara (Japan Warriors)
WTA Finals winner Agnieszka Radwanska made her IPTL debut on Thursday as she decimated Jarmila Gajdosova of the Philippine Mavericks 6-1, and looked in fine form coming into today’s tie.
The Polish ace has played the 23-year-old Nara twice before, not conceding more than four games on either occasion. Today, she was initially up against the 68th-ranked Lucic-Baroni, who held her own in the set. Between them, Lucic-Baroni and Nara managed two aces for the Warriors, with Radwanska unable to muster a single one.
Radwanska did not manage as many winners as her rival(s) either, but the key to her victory, as has been the case with several similar matches this edition of the IPTL, was the number of unforced errors Lucic-Baroni and her substitute Nara eventually committed – 15, nearly twice as many as Radwanska's eight.
The Aces would take their second set in a row, winning by the margin of 6-2. Radwanska’s victory took her team to a 12-6 lead.
Result: Radwanska def. Nara 6-2
Men’s doubles: Bopanna/Dodig (Indian Aces) vs Paes/Herbert (Japan Warriors)
While the Indian Aces had Rohan Bopanna, India’s most successful tennis player Leander Paes is a crowd favourite, which gave the Japan Warriors some support from the Delhi crowd.
Bopanna, who last paired with Rafael Nadal, played today with Croat doubles exponent Ivan Dodig. They faced 17 doubles Grand Slams combining with a very able partner in their Japan Warriors opposition.
Paes, thanks to some stellar coordination with his much-younger French partner, showed spectators exactly why he is considered one of the all-time greats of doubles tennis. The Warriors side hit three aces and 12 winners to their rivals’ two aces and eight winners, and they won a solid 69% of their first serves.
With two extremely able sets of opponents, the match was always going to be a tight one. The pairs both broke each other once, going to a shootout; the Warriors’ Paes and Herbert won that to take their team's first victory of the tie 6-5.
The win slightly narrowed the Aces’ lead, with the team ahead at 17-12.
Result: Paes/Herbert def. Bopanna/Dodig 6-5
Legends’ singles: Fabrice Santoro (Indian Aces) vs Thomas Enqvist (Japan Warriors)
Three-time doubles Majors winning Santoro, who also coaches the Aces, is an old hand at the league format, staying on with the team from the inaugural edition of the IPTL last year. Swedish ace Thomas Enqvist, however, has only recently joined the Warriors as their Legend, with former World No. 1 Marat Safin, out with an injury.
The Japan Warriors would have been buoyed by the fact that Enqvist has beaten Santoro in each of the pair’s three prior meetings on the ATP circuit. But Santoro was in strong form today, hitting four aces and 11 winners against his younger competitor en route to a 6-3 victory.
Santoro’s win for the Aces meant that they widened their lead to 23-15.
Result: Santoro def. Enqvist 6-3
Men’s singles: Ivan Dodig (Indian Aces) vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Japan Warriors)
The Japan Warriors once again did not play their singles specialist Philipp Kohlschreiber, benching him in favour of Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The singles thus became a battle of the doubles players, with Ivan Dodig replacing Rafael Nadal.
US Open doubles winner Herbert has played some solid singles sets, upsetting UAE Royals’ World No. 6 singles player Tomas Berdych 6-4 in the teams’ tie.
Although Herbert dominated Dodig early, the Croat came out with some masterful strokeplay, some of it brought straight out of the textbook of his team’s star, Rafael Nadal. As he sliced the ball across court on one particular occasion, it evaded the touch of Herbert’s racquet by what seemed like a hair's width to give Dodig the point.
Ultimately, however, the Croat’s efforts, though valiant, were in vain. Herbert managed a mammoth 13 winners and four aces to Dodig’s seven winners and three aces to get over the finish line.
By this point, the Indian Aces’ lead was unassailable, and although Herbert won 6-3, the Warriors would seal the tie by a fairly comfortable margin.
Result: Herbert def. Dodig 6-3