Although the UAE Royals managed to snap out of their losing streak ahead of this match, their last meeting with the Philippine Mavericks did not go their way as they lost the tie from a winning position.
They were fresh off two victories on the trot, however, while the Mavericks suffered a whitewash at the hands of the bottom-ranked Japan Warriors, to whom they lost 15-29.
With two strong sides in the tie today, both playing for a finals spot, it was bound to be a close contest, and the play epitomised the phrase “going down to the wire.”
Here's how it unfolded:
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic (UAE Royals) vs James Blake (Philippine Mavericks)
Former World No. 4 James Blake has taken the place of Mavericks legend Mark Philippoussis in the legends’ games, and with aplomb. In the last tie between the UAE Royals and the Mavericks, former Wimbledon winner Ivanisevic succumbed to Blake’s attack despite being in a winning position at the outset.
The American, fresh off a 3-6 loss to former No. 1 Marat Safin in the Mavericks’ tie against the Japan Warriors, may have been shaken by that loss, which brought his momentum to a halt. In addition, having only recently made his IPTL debut, Blake does not have the league experience of Ivanisevic.
In today’s tie, however, Blake was at his best. Engaging in some long rallies with the big-serving Croat on the opposite side of the net, it appeared that the American had fazed the otherwise unflappable Ivnaisevic, who played a patchy game with 17 unforced errors during the pair’s set.
Blake stayed competitive throughout the match, pulling out seven winners en route to a 25-minute, 6-4 win against Ivanisevic.
The victory gave the Mavericks a 6-4 lead over the UAE Royals.
Result: Blake def. Ivanisevic 6-4
Women's singles: Kristina Mladenovic (UAE Royals) vs Jarmila Gajdosova (Philippine Mavericks)
Doubles Grand Slam winner Mladenovic has never played Gajdosova in singles, with all previous encounters between the two on the professional circuit coming in the doubles. The 29th-ranked Mladenovic was expected to take an easy victory over her Australian rival, but that proved not to be the case.
Until nearly the end of the set, Gajdosova played a flawless game, executing drop shots to perfection as she outwilled her higher-ranked rival. Going up two breaks against Mladenovic to bring the score to 5-0, the Slovakia-born Australian ace hit 13 winners and looked set to bagel her opponent.
A late charge from the young Frenchwoman saw her quickly take three games in succession with some aggressive shot-making, but it was not enough. Mladenovic would lose the set 3-6, with the rival Mavericks’ lead widening to 12-7.
Result: Gajdosova def. Mladenovic 6-3
Mixed Doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic (UAE Royals) vs /Gajdosova/Roger-Vasselin [sub. Somdev Devvarman] (Philippine Mavericks)
The French-Australian pair of doubles specialist Edouard Roger-Vasselin and new partner Jarmila Gajdosova did not have much success in the Mavericks’ tie against bottom-placed team Japan Warriors, going down 2-6 then.
Nestor and Mladenovic, meanwhile, have a good rhythm on the professional circuit, which they appear to have carried to the IPTL. Although Mladenovic came into the set immediately after losing the previous one, she appeared high on energy and motivation.
The Canadian-French pair played effortlessly, with Nestor managing several winners as he stood deadpan at the service line.
With the Royals’ pair leading 5-0, the Mavericks called on Indian ace Somdev Devvarman to help salvage the situation. They were provided a negligible salve as Devvarman and Gajdosova took the next game, but Mladenovic’s precision and Nestor’s reflexes proved too much for the Mavericks pair to handle.
The two won the third set 6-1, and with it brought the UAE Royals back into the tie, with both teams now at 13 games apiece.
Result: Nestor/Mladenovic def. Devvarman/Gajdosova 6-1
Men’s doubles: Cilic/Nestor (UAE Royals) vs Huey/Roger-Vasselin (Philippine Mavericks)
Big-serving Croat ace Marin Cilic has become part of the IPTL in full force. and has had success with his new doubles partner, Grand Slam winner Daniel Nestor. Their opponents today were doubles experts too, however, and the Philippine-French pair won the Mavericks’ only set in their previous tie against the Japan Warriors.
The set was never going to be a cakewalk for either team, and it did indeed go down to the wire.
Each team pulled out quick, powerful shots and very quick serves in a closely contested battle. In the end, the Mavericks pair managed to come back after consecutive set losses for the team, with Roger-Vasselin employing topspin to great effect.
The Mavericks ended up outplaying their rivals, with 10 winners to the Royals’ five, and they also committed fewer errors than their competitors.
In the end, Huey and Roger-Vasselin would win the set 6-4, taking the Mavericks to a 19-17 lead.
Result: Huey/Roger-Vasselin def. Nestor/Cilic 6-4
Men’s singles: Marin Cilic (UAE Royals) vs Ivo Karlovic [sub. Edouard Roger-Vasselin] (Philippine Mavericks)
The two powerful Croats took each other on in the final set of the night, with both known for their big serves. It’s Karlovic who has the lead statistically though – he has hit the most aces in tennis history, with 10,442 to his name and counting.
Cilic is the replacement for UAE Royals’ marquee signing Roger Federer, who has completed his IPTL obligation. With the Croat pair having been Davis Cup teammates, they would have had the shared advantage of knowing the other’s game.
The Mavericks called on the services of Edouard Roger-Vasselin late into the set, but it was Cilic’s nearly error-free game that sealed the set for the Croat and his team. His 6-4 victory meant the teams were now tied at 23 games all. He’d managed to hold serve and break early on in the game, and it was his strong start that helped him clean up the set.
Under the IPTL rules, if teams are tied at the end of the mtach, the game goes to what is known as a Super Shoot-Out in the men’s singles. So the teams headed to the first ever Super Shoot-Out of the IPTL, which saw Cilic take on Karlovic yet again.
Result: Cilic def. Karlovic 6-4
Super Shoot-Out: Marin Cilic vs Ivo Karlovic
In a replay of the singles battle, the two Croats took each other on again. Just as their singles set, the Super Shoot-Out – in which the set goes to the first player to reach 10 points – went neck-and-neck, and it was impossible to predict who would win.
In the end, it was Karlovic who sealed the tie for the Philippine Mavericks with a blazing ace. He took the shootout 10-9, and with it the match for the Mavericks, who edged the Royals out 24-23.
Result: Karlovic def. Cilic 10-9