The UAE Royals will be desperate to prove a point against the Japan Warriors; the last time these two teams clashed, the Royals collapsed to a surprise defeat at the hands of their bottom-placed opponents. The Dubai outfit was looking to cruise to a comfortable victory when they suddenly lost the momentum, gifting the Warriors their only win at the 2015 IPTL.
The Royals continued their losing streak as they slumped to a 24-27 defeat against the Singapore Slammers on Tuesday after having a lead midway through the match. Poor finishes have cost them dearly and they now languish at the fourth place in the standings
But this is their chance to make amends and remain in contention for a place in Sunday’s final, even though that looks unlikely now. They can count on some valuable home support to give them extra motivation as they try their best to turn around their fortunes.
Will they be successful in snapping the losing streak? We try to find out:
Women’s singles: Kristina Mladenovic vs Kirsten Flipkens (probable)
Kristina Mladenovic and Kirsten Flipkens have never met each other on the WTA Tour, but they did square off against each other at the IPTL last year. And it turned out to be quite an entertaining contest, replete with brilliant shot-making and superb touches at the net from both players. It was the Frenchwoman who emerged the victor in that set.
Mladenovic would be upbeat when she faces off against Flipkens this time, having put in a solid performance against the Slammers. After losing against Karolina Pliskova from a break up on Tuesday, she rebounded to register an excellent mixed doubles win, and would be doubly motivated to take her team home.
Suffice to say, the advantage lies with the Royals in this set.
Men’s singles: Marin Cilic vs Philipp Kohlschreiber (probable)
World No. 13 Marin Cilic would be required to don the shoes of the UAE Royals’ leading singles player for the first time as Roger Federer’s obligations at Dubai are over. So far, Cilic has turned up only for doubles and has ended up on the losing side in each of the three sets he has played.
His next opponent, World No. 34 Philipp Kohlschreiber, holds a 5-3 edge over the Croat and also has a 3-2 advantage on hard courts. However, they haven’t faced off since 2012.
In the intervening period, the Croat has had the finest phase of his career, winning a Grand Slam title at the 2014 US Open. It will be interesting to see how they now fare three years later.
Purely on the basis of rankings, Cilic should be favoured in this match-up, but he needs to summon his huge serve and hit with precision to tackle his German opponent. Kohlschreiber is an excellent shot-maker and has been playing at the IPTL2 since the Kobe leg while Cilic is only now making his debut in singles.
Being better adapted to the format, can Kohlschreiber find his game and determination for a win?
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic vs Thomas Enqvist (probable)
A struggling Goran Ivanisevic will be happy to see Thomas Enqvist across the net in this set. The Croat prevailed over the Swede 6-4 in their most recent showdown at New Delhi, thundering down four aces and winning 80% of his net points.
Ivanisevic has been showing flashes of brilliance but hasn’t been able to sustain his level long enough. But Enqvist has had bigger problems; he was blanked 0-6 by Fabrice Santoro of the Indian Aces in his last outing for the Warriors.
That is definitely not the right preparation before facing Ivanisevic, and the Croat is likely come through in this one with consummate ease.
Men’s doubles: Nestor/Cilic vs Paes/Herbert (probable)
Marin Cilic’s doubles set against the Singapore Slammers was one he would like to forget. Alongside Roger Federer, the Royals duo was a break up and looked poised for a win. But they inexplicably lost the plot from there and could never recover as they nosedived into another loss.
The good thing for the Croat is that he has Daniel Nestor for company this time. The 12-time Major winner looked very sharp during his mixed doubles contest against the Singapore franchise. The Royals will hope that Nestor continues with that form and can lead the team to victory as they face the formidable combination of Leander Paes and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Against such a well-coordinated team, Cilic cannot afford to slack either. The Croat did bring up some of his big serves and fabulous forehands in the initial part of his doubles set against the Slammers, and he would need to repeat that for the Royals to have any chance for a win.
Mixed doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic vs Herbert/Lucic-Baroni (probable)
Nestor and Mladenovic have scores to settle in this set. They were upset in stunning fashion the last time they met with Japan Warriors’ Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, losing the set 2-6.
Herbert’s huge serves coupled with Lucic-Baroni’s fiery groundstrokes left the more accomplished French-Canadian duo flat-footed. However, if Nestor-Mladenovic’s 6-3 triumph over the Slammers duo on Tuesday is any indication, the Royals pair is getting back to form once again.
And that is probably not welcome news for the Warriors. Besides, this is probably the Royals’ last big opportunity to keep themselves still in the race for the final. Their tried-and-tested reliable pair would not like to squander it.
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 16 Dec 2015, 08:12 IST