IPTL 2016: Indian Aces end Japan leg with a loss to UAE
2014 IPTL champions Indian Aces ended their Japan leg on a disastrous note as they succumbed to a 20-30 defeat to the UAE Royals at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo on Sunday. A day after a nail-biting victory over the reigning champions Singapore Slammers, the Aces could not keep up that form and suffered their first loss of the season.
After going down to the hosts Japan Warriors on Day 2, the Royals came prepared for this as they did not lose a single set out of the five the two contested.
Here’s how the tie unfolded:
It started off with a battle of contrasting styles between Royals’ Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson and Aces’ Wimbledon and US Open runner-up Mark Philippoussis. There were absolutely no nerves for the Swede even on his debut and he smartly manoeuvred his way to an early break to keep the dangerous ‘Scud’ under pressure right from the beginning.
Exquisite serve-and-volleying saw Johansson get to 4-2 as his Australian opponent failed to disrupt his rhythm. The big server finally managed to secure a break in the eighth game but by then it was too late. Johansson wrapped it up 6-3 to give his team a great start.
Result: Thomas Johansson (UAE Royals) bt Mark Philippoussis 6-3 (Indian Aces)
Two women known for their finesse and guile crossed swords in the women’s singles face-off. Royals’ Martina Hingis, who was routed by Japan’s Jelena Jankovic yesterday, took on the court against the Aces’ comeback queen Kirsten Flipkens.
An absorbing encounter was always on the cards and the crowd was not disappointed. The Belgian, though, made in-roads early in Hingis’s serve only to see the Swiss Miss level things in no time!
It was an evenly-matched game till 3-3 replete with beautiful shotmaking but the five-time singles Grand Slam winner knew when to raise her level. She has reigned supreme at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo five times during her singles playing days and the 36-year-old summoned some of that courage to sail away to a 6-4 win.
Result: Martina Hingis (UAE Royals) bt Kirsten Flipkens 6-4 (Indian Aces)
A Sania Mirza vs Martina Hingis contest is always a must-watch affair after the phenomenal success the two had during their incredible partnership. However, the duel did not live up to its billing this time.
Hingis paired up with Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas, who is ranked 34th in doubles, besides being an accomplished top-25 singles player. The two made seamless progress against the dangerous Aces duo of Rohan Bopanna and Mirza to extend the Royals’ lead further.
Using the Power Point effectively, the Swiss-Uruguayan combine raced to a 2-1 lead by breaking serve. One more break saw the Royals pair cruise to 5-2 and looking comfortable for a triumph.
The Indians, however, didn’t make things that easy for them towards the end and they reduced the deficit to 4-5 through a barrage of booming serves from Bopanna. The Royals held their nerves to stave off the late challenge and grab the set, 6-4.
Result: Hingis/Cuevas (UAE Royals) bt Mirza/Bopanna 6-4 (Indian Aces)
Feliciano Lopez and Tomas Berdych are locked at 6-6 in their head-to-head record. For those who expected a clash between these two players to be one thrilling encounter, could not have been at fault.
Instead what they got was a lacklustre display by the Aces’ Lopez that bolstered the already soaring Royals’ confidence further. The Spanish left-hander was not at his best and crumbled as early as the fourth game to concede a huge 3-1 advantage to the Czech due to a double fault.
World No. 10 Berdych is not someone to squander such a big opportunity. He produced some dazzling returns to dash all hopes of a Lopez comeback and bagged the set 6-3.
Result: Tomas Berdych (UAE Royals) bt Feliciano Lopez 6-3 (Indian Aces)
The final set of the day turned out to be engrossing with both pairs – Aces’ Bopanna/Lopez and Royals’ Cuevas/Daniel Nestor – putting in some brilliant shotmaking. The competitive set made up for all the one-sided sets the spectators had watched early on in the day.
The two teams – both with left hand-right hand combinations – had the right weapons to nullify each other and thus remained evenly-matched till 5-5 before it went to a shootout.
With the shootout having gone the Aces’ way, overtime ensued. That eventually ended with the two pairs tied at a sizzling 6-6 to hand over a fantastic overall win to the Royals.
The victory helped the Royals jump to the top of the table.
Result: Nestor/Cuevas (UAE Royals) 6-6 Bopanna/Lopez (Indian Aces)
Overall result: UAE Royals bt Indian Aces 30-20