Both the UAE Royals and the Japan Warriors played their respective ties on the first day of the 2015 International Premier Tennis League. While the Royals, the runners-up in last year's inaugural edition, took on the Singapore Slammers, the Warriors took on the Indian Aces, last year’s champions.
(For tickets to the UAE Royals matches, click here).
The UAE Royals took a strong victory over their competitors, finishing their tie 26 games to the Slammers’ 20, as their star-studded lineup unleashed some solid shots.
On the back of that momentum alone things appear to be rosy for the Royals, up against a losing Japan side. The Warriors, however, will have the added advantage of this being a home game for them - particularly so for their singles star Kei Nishikori, who has himself played brilliant tennis this year.
Here is a breakdown of the tie to be held in Kobe, Japan tomorrow
Men’s singles: Tomas Berdych vs Kei Nishikori (probable)
Tennis fans have been treated to this match-up very recently - at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, where the two stars faced off against each other in singles.
A nimble Nishikori, ranked 8th to Berdych’s 6th, upset the Czech in a three-setter. The youngest player in that tournament dazzled as he glided his way across the court, blasting winners for the better part of the three sets.
The pair have met five times in the past, with Nishikori taking four of those matches. Every one of Nishikori’s victories has been on hardcourts, with Berdych coming out on top on clay. This will be the pair’s second indoor match after the ATP World Tour Finals.
Nishikori has also been in significantly superior form lately, and closed out the proceedings on Day 1 with a victory against the tall, athletic Gael Monfils. He seems primed to repeat that result against Berdych, but you can never count the Czech player out.
Men’s doubles: Nestor/Berdych vs Herbert/Paes (probable)
This one promises to be a good one. Three of these four players are accomplished doubles specialists, each having been very successful with their respective doubles partners.
Canadian Daniel Nestor, who has had immense success with his French partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin, partnered singles 6th-ranked Berdych to victory over the pair of Marcelo Melo and Dustin Brown today - with Melo himself an established doubles champion.
Herbert, with compatriot and partner Nicolas Mahut, reached the finals of two Grand Slams this year - taking victory at the US Open, and finishing runners-up at the Australian Open.
Paes, for his part, is considered one of the greatest volleyers and strongest doubles players of the past few decades, and has a whopping 17 doubles Grand Slams to show for his troubles.
Although Nestor and Berdych have victory on their side, and Paes was benched in favour of Nishikori on Day 1, the Warriors seem to have the edge in this match-up considering their immense doubles experience.
Mixed doubles: Sharapova/Herbert vs Mladenovic/Nestor (probable)
Mladenovic and Nestor showed great coordination and synchronisation today, which was not a surprise considering their history of success together. The two displayed their trademark on-court chemistry to canter to a 6-3 victory, hitting 3 aces and 9 winners to take the win.
If they can carry that momentum, they’ll be in a great position to halt Maria Sharapova's unbeaten run so far.
Herbert put on a serving clinic and was also highly effective at the net in his match against the Indian pair of Bopanna-Mirza, and would look to continue his winning run against the Royals. And although the Russian showed some lack of coordination with her teammate early on in the set, they quickly overcame this to take the win.
All that said, Nestor and Mladenovic have won two Grand Slams together, and they would start as firm favourites in this set.
Women’s singles: Ana Ivanovic vs Maria Sharapova (probable)
This is one match that tennis enthusiasts will be waiting for with bated breath. A face-off between two former World No. 1s is an exciting prospect whichever way you look at it.
History is not on the side of Ivanovic though. The Serb has gone down to Sharapova in all but four matches in their 14-match rivalry - and Sharapova has taken victory on every surface barring carpet.
The pair last met in Brisbane this year, with Sharapova taking victory then, although she was stretched to three sets by the Serb, who last won against the Russian in 2014. But prior to that, Sharapova took a staggering seven victories on the trot.
Ivanovic beat her competitor Bencic on Day 1 with an assured performance. If she continues in that vein of form, she may well be in with a chance of an upset.
Although statistically this might seem like a walk in the park for Sharapova, Ivanovic does well in the league format. Moreover, she beat Sharapova at last year’s inaugural edition - Ivanovic had then been with the Indian Aces, whilst Sharapova had been with the Manila Mavericks.
This promises to be a good watch, no matter who wins!
Legends' singles: Goran Ivanisevic vs Marat Safin
This promises to be another stellar display of fast-paced tennis. Former World No. 2 Goran Ivanisevic will take on former No. 1 Marat Safin, with Ivanisevic coming into the pair’s match-up on the back of a victory over the Slammers’ Carlos Moya.
Moya may have outplayed Ivanisevic statistically, but the big-serving Croat played an absolutely seamless, consistent game to eventually take victory.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Safin was the favourite to win his own match-up against the Aces’ Fabrice Santoro, and he put in a strong fight, employing his famous backhand and playing drop shots and tweeners like a man much younger than him. It was not enough, however, and Safin was unable to break him the Santoro serve all match.
The head-to-head between the two is dead even for the retired pair; they have played each other twice before professionally, over a decade ago, with each taking one victory. But Ivanisevic's serve, which still packs a punch, might prove to be the difference-maker in this set.
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 03 Dec 2015, 11:05 IST