After the memorable New Delhi leg that culminated in the much-awaited Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal showdown, the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) now moves on to Dubai. The challenge for the defending champions Indian Aces now is to keep up their winning run even in the absence of the World No. 5 Nadal.
Much to their comfort, the table-toppers do have enough weapons in their team even without their star player. On Monday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, the Japan Warriors will be the first team to test them.
In spite of being bottom-placed and having managed just one win so far, the Warriors can do enough to rattle the favourites.
Here’s a look at how the sets might unfold:
Women’s singles: Agnieszka Radwanska vs Kirsten Flipkens (probable)
This set will be replete with trick shots as both these players – Agnieszka Radwanska and Kirsten Flipkens – have a penchant for finesse and deft touches. They have met only once, at the 2013 Miami Open, and that match quite appropriately got decided in the third set where Radwanska emerged the winner.
But what stands out from that encounter is the Pole’s incredible no-look behind-the-back backhand that became an immediate YouTube sensation. When these two meet again in Dubai, it is logical to expect them to produce more such magic.
Of the two, it is the Indian Aces player who looks more confident now. She looked thoroughly impressive in her last set against the UAE Royals’ Kristina Mladenovic whom she pummelled for a 6-1 victory.
On the other hand, the Belgian has just come into the IPTL and played her first match on Saturday. It was a forgettable outing for the 85th-ranked Flipkens who slumped to a 1-6 loss to Belinda Bencic.
With the advantage of having played more IPTL sets, the World No. 5 Radwanska will likely come through in this contest.
Men’s singles: Ivan Dodig vs Philipp Kohlschreiber (probable)
Ivan Dodig has big shoes to fill as 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal’s 2015 IPTL commitment is over. The Spaniard had delivered three wins out of four sets during his stay and played a key role in keeping the defending champions at the top of the table.
The mantle now passes on to the 2015 French Open doubles champions Dodig. The Croat has played two singles sets so far at this IPTL and succeeded in winning one. Showing his amazing dexterity and lunging volleys, Dodig had triumphed 6-3 over Nick Kyrgios.
The World No. 87 would surely like to give an exhibition of all those skills in the Dubai leg, but he needs to be wary of his next opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German holds a 3-2 edge over the Croat and has won three of their four hardcourt meetings.
Even though Kohlschreiber hasn’t fared very well at the IPTL2, his record over Dodig might fuel him to victory.
Legends’ singles: Fabrice Santoro vs Thomas Enqvist (probable)
When Fabrice Santoro is present, it is hard to look past him. The Frenchman simply thrives in this format and has never failed to regale the audience with his array of magical shots. His determination and passion have been outstanding, especially in the Aces’ last match when he stormed back from a 2-5 deficit to edge past Goran Ivanisevic.
It is a daunting task for anyone to subdue Santoro, more so for Thomas Enqvist who had already played and lost to the Frenchman just a couple of days back. The Swede went down 3-6 in the set the two played in New Delhi, and it doesn’t look likely to be anything different this time.
Men’s doubles: Bopanna/Dodig vs Paes/Kohlschreiber (probable)
With the US Open men’s doubles champion Pierre-Hugues Herbert having fallen sick, the Japan Warriors will probably have to field singles specialist Philipp Kohlschreiber alongside Leander Paes once again like they did against the Singapore Slammers. It was an auspicious maiden appearance for the Indo-German duo as they beat Kyrgios and Melo 6-4.
But on Monday, they will come up against two players each of whom is accomplished in the doubles circuit. Rohan Bopanna, who made the final of the ATP World Tour Finals, has carried his stellar form into the IPTL2 and has looked very sharp. His partner Ivan Dodig too has done his bit with his spellbinding reflexes on the court.
They have played two sets together, winning one and losing the other one in a close tie-break. It is thus quite obvious that they will pose a formidable challenge to the Japan pair.
Mixed doubles: Bopanna/Mirza vs Paes/Flipkens (probable)
Dominant and imperious – Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna have looked every bit like champions. When a serve as deadly as Bopanna’s and a forehand as ferocious as Mirza’s combine, the result is hardly ever in doubt.
The all-Indian duo have romped home five times out of the six sets they have joined forces in. After such consistent performances, currently they look unstoppable.
However, it must be noted that they will be facing one of the world’s most revered doubles exponents in Leander Paes. The 17-time Grand Slam champion is pairing up with Kirsten Flipkens whose nimble footwork and nifty volleys can come in handy in this doubles set.
The Japan team surely has the capacity to threaten the heavy favourite Aces duo.
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 13 Dec 2015, 17:57 IST