The third leg of the International Premier Tennis League is underway in India, and the proceedings opened on a boisterous note with the UAE Royals taking on the Japan Warriors in the first tie of the leg.
The Royals had seemed to have regained their form and when they ended their losing streak by defeating the Singapore Slammers in their final tie of the Manila leg. The second-placed Royals looked the stronger team going into their tie against the Warriors, who are currently at the bottom of the table. But the Warriors clearly weren't ready to continue their dismal run, and what ensued could definitely be called an upset.
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Here’s how the tie went:
Women’s Singles: Ana Ivanovic (UAE Royals) vs Kurumi Nara sub. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (Japan Warriors)
As they did with their tie against the Philippine Mavericks in Manila, the Warriors began the singles tie playing talented Japanese player Kurumi Nara against Ana Ivanovic.
But soon the Serb ran away with a healthy lead, and the Warriors substituted Nara for the more experienced Croat ace Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The Japanese team ended up losing that set and It appeared to be a singular replay of the set against Serena Williams in Manila, with another former World No. 1 taking the place of the big-hitting American.
Incidentally, the last time Ivanovic went up against Nara, she coasted home to a 6-2, 6-3 victory. Today was no different, as the Serbian ace dominated her opponents from the get go. Once Nara was substituted, 68th-ranked Lucic-Baroni came on and met much the same fate. The key in this match was the unforced errors, with the Serbian committing only seven to her rival’s staggering 19.
Ivanovic broke Lucic-Baroni twice, and sealed an easy 6-2 win, giving the UAE Royals an early lead.
Result: Ivanovic def Lucic-Baroni 6-2
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic (UAE Royals) vs Thomas Enqvist (Japan Warriors)
Wimbledon winner Ivanisevic has played great tennis all through the league and has looked in fine form. The big-serving Croat played the Warriors’ former World No. 1 Marat Safin in Kobe and beat him 6-4, so would have been positive coming into the tie today.
However, the once top-ranked Russian has been plagued by injury, which caused him to be benched and replaced by Swedish ace Thomas Enqvist. This is the first IPTL season for the one-time World No. 4, and the 1999 Australian Open finalist did not disappoint.
He was nearly neck-and-neck with Ivanisevic throughout the match, hitting almost as many winners and committing just as many unforced errors as his rival. The Croat managed four aces to Enqvist’s two, and eventually defeated his younger rival 6-4.
The win took the Royals to a 12-6 lead.
Result: Ivanisevic def Enqvist 6-4
Men’s doubles: Nestor/Berdych (UAE Royals) vs Paes/Herbert (Japan Warriors)
The Warriors’ side had one marked advantage here – while their UAE Royals rivals had one Grand Slam doubles winner, they had two – one of them with a staggering 17 Slams.
Playing in India, Paes’ homeland, the Warriors were also the crowd favourites. But Nestor, partnered by singles World No. 6 Berdych, had won the last men’s doubles tie against the Warriors.
The Royals pair committed three more unforced errors than the more experienced Japan side, who were able to break their serve during the match. With the Royals failing to make a proper comeback, the Warriors took a fairly easy victory – the first one for the team this tie as they defeated Nestor and Berdych 6-3.
The win narrowed the Royals’ lead to 15-12.
Result: Paes/Herbert def Nestor/Berdych 6-3
Men’s Singles: Tomas Berdych (UAE Royals) vs Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Japan Warriors)
The 6th-ranked Berdych is an intimidating opponent for anyone, and considering Herbert is known for his proficiency in doubles, it was surprising that the team chose to play him instead of their singles specialist Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The Czech international dispatched a fiery, aggressive Nick Kyrgios in the UAE Royals’ previous tie against the Singapore Slammers, and despite losses to Milos Raonic of the Mavericks and an in-form Rafael Nadal of the Indian Aces, he played an extremely competitive game.
Berdych looked significantly stronger going into this tie, so neither he nor the spectators would have expected what happened. The Czech’s loss was surprising considering that he outplayed his French rival in every possible way statistically, hitting more aces and winners than the Warriors’ player.
The key here lay in the fact that the French ace managed to successfully break his competitor twice, and ended up taking a surprising 6-4 victory over Berdych. The win, the Japan Warriors’ second set in a row, meant that they had only a one-game deficit as the UAE Royals led 19-18.
Result: Herbert def Berdych 6-4
Mixed Doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic (UAE Royals) vs Herbert/Lucic-Baroni (Japan Warriors)
The Nestor-Mladenovic team is time-and-Slam tested, with the pair having taken two titles together, while the pair of Herbert and Lucic-Baroni is new. Herbert is a known and successful doubles exponent, while Lucic-Baroni is more known for her singles proficiency.
Nestor and Mladenovic, like their teammate Berdych, were far and away the favourites to win going into the tie; but they were upset – and far more so than Berdych.
German-born Croatian ace Lucic-Baroni managed to find a rhythm with Herbert – an odd pairing solely in existence for the purposes of the league – and routed their competitors, hitting four aces while their rivals managed a single one. They also committed only four unforced errors, while Nestor and Mladenovic committed three times as many.
The French-Croat pair also managed to break their rivals twice, something Nestor and Mladenovic were unable to do, although Mladenovic took a stellar point at the beginning of the tie as she managed a ‘tweener’.
Thoroughly outplaying their competition as they closed out the match, the Japan Warriors pair also sealed the tie for their team as they took the team’s first IPTL win by coming back from a deficit of two sets.
Result: Herbert/Lucic-Baroni def Nestor/Mladenovic 6-2