The UAE Royals, who had started off this year’s league as an unstoppable juggernaut, have faltered lately, losing to the Indian Aces in New Delhi and then the Singapore Slammers in Dubai yesterday. The loss to the Singapore side came despite a lead midway through the tie.
Top of the table at one point, the UAE Royals then held second for a while, but back-to-back losses have now pushed them to 4th in the standings. Meanwhile, the Japan Warriors had only had one victory in the league so far – and it came against the UAE Royals.
With neither team in much form, the UAE Royals still looked the stronger side on paper. And for once, the proceedings played out according to expectations.
Here’s what happened in the tie:
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic (UAE Royals) vs Marat Safin (Japan Warriors)
Former World No. 2 Ivanisevic has been struggling of late. Although he has shown his immense skill in spurts, he’s also suffered some ignominous losses – such as the one to the Indian Aces’ Fabrice Santoro, who bageled him in the pair’s last tie.
The last time the UAE Royals and Japan Warriors faced off, Ivanisevic played against Swedish ace Thomas Enqvist, who had come on for an injured Safin.
This time around, however, the former World No. 1 from Russia was back and fighting fit for today’s tie. And although Ivanisevic competitor played quite a solid game himself, Safin committed half as many unforced errors as the Croat. In that stastistic lay the key to his loss.
Safin’s 6-3 win saw the Japan Warriors take an initial lead.
Result: Safin def. Ivanisevic 6-3
Men’s singles: Marin Cilic (UAE Royals) vs Philipp Kohlschreiber (Japan Warriors)
Taking over the role of the Royals’ singles star with Roger Federer no longer obligated to play, Cilic was pitted against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber. He had so far only played in the doubles, and lost each time.
The World No. 13, up against World No. 34 Kohlschreiber, had lost to the German five times of the eight they had met in the past.
One would have favoured Cilic purely on the basis of his significantly higher ranking though. And eventually that’s what happened – Cilic managed more winners than his competitor – eight – and committed fewer unforced errors, taking a 6-3 victory over Kohlschreiber.
His win equalised the teams at nine games apiece.
Result: Cilic def. Kohlschreiber 6-3
Men’s Doubles: Cilic/Nestor (UAE Royals) vs Paes/Herbert (Japan Warriors)
Cilic has not had a good outing at the doubles, and he lost the last set he played from a winning position alongside former World No. 1 Roger Federer.
Partnered this time around by Grand Slam-winning doubles player Daniel Nestor, however, Cilic looked in much better shape. The two went up against doubles Slam-winning Paes and Herbert, and could not afford to slack in the slightest.
Paes and Herbert did ensure that this set was very closely contested, hitting 13 winners to Nestor and Cilic’s 11. However, they also committed more errors, and although they put up a solid effort, the set would go a tiebreak that the Warriors pair would eventually lose 7-2.
The Royals’ win gave them a 15-14 lead in games.
Result: Cilic/Nestor def. Paes/Herbert 6-5
Women’s singles: Kristina Mladenovic (UAE Royals) vs Kirsten Flipkens (Japan Warriors)
The only time the French and the Belgian players have met has been at the IPTL last year, and it had been a closely contested one that saw Mladenovic emerge victorious. Up on motivation, she went into this tie with the momentum of having won the last mixed doubles set she played.
With some deft touches, strong shot-making and incredibly quick reflexes, Mladenovic hit seven winners to outclass the Belgian, closing out the set 6-2 in just over 20 minutes.
Mladenovic’s win gave the UAE Royals a 21-16 lead, which meant that the Warriors would need to bagel their opposition in the final set to win.
Result: Mladenovic def. Flipkens 6-2
Mixed Doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic (UAE Royals) vs Herbert/Flipkens (Japan Warriors)
Nestor and Mladenovic were upset in their last tie against the Japan Warriors, thoroughly routed by Herbert and his then-partner, Marjana Lucic-Baroni 2-6.
The Royals pair took heart, however, from the fact that they won their set over the Singapore Slammers just as convincingly, showing a stunning display of doubles skills.
The final set was easily the best of the lot tonight, with all four players playing at their highest level. Tag-teaming each other with immense coordination, rotating slots near the net and at the baseline, guarding each corner of the court with their lives; it was all on display on court tonight.
With intense rallies that seemed able to go either way at any given point, the final set left viewers enthralled with the scales equally balanced towards both teams.
It initially appeared to be tilted in the UAE Royals’ favour; up a break against the Warriors, the team were set to serve for the match. And that was when a late charge from Herbert and Flipkens upset the applecart entirely, as they took their higher-ranked competitors by the horns.
Flipkens and Herbert hit a massive 21 winners – with seven aces – during the course of the match as they took the final set to a shootout, the second of the evening.
The Warriors kept their calm and composure to win the shootout 7-3, thereby winning the set 6-5.
The UAE Royals eventually won the tie 27-22.
Result: Herbert/Flipkens def. Nestor/Mladenovic 6-5