In any league, the clash of the table toppers always makes for a terrific experience. Micromax Indian Aces, last year’s champions, have won three in three and are on top of the table. Inspired by their marquee player Rafael Nadal, who was making his IPTL debut, they demolished OBI UAE Royals 30-18 in today's game.
The Philippine Mavericks meanwhile continued their impressive run, overcoming the Japan Warriors to improve their games won percentage to 54.4, which is good enough for the second place in the table. Serena Williams in particular was at her blistering best, and the rest of the teams would be wary of running into her.
With Nadal back in the fold, the Indian Aces look like the team to beat, egged on by their Magician coach Fabrice Santoro. They will have a slight edge over the Mavericks, having had more time to rest before the tie.
We take a look at all the exciting prospects on offer during this enticing match-up:
Men’s singles: Rafael Nadal vs Milos Raonic (probable)
Milos Raonic, the 24-year-old, 14th ranked Canadian has his task cut out against one of the legends of the game, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard, who is staging a comeback after an indifferent 2015, is ranked fifth and has a 6-1 head-to-head record against Raonic; the 2015 Indian Wells Masters was the only time Raonic could pull off a victory against Nadal.
But Nadal had his revenge in the Shanghai Masters Round of 16, the last time the two faced each other, as he played some of his best tennis to douse the big-serving giant's attacking game.
Raonic has won his last two fixtures, defeating Kei Nishikori of the Warriors 6-5 and then Tomas Berdych of OBI UAE Royals 6-4 after losing his first tie against Nick Kyrgios 4-6. Nadal on his part looked ominously strong in beating Berdych 6-5 and teaming up with Dodig to beat the combination of Nestor and Berdych 6-3.
All the signs are in place to anoint Nadal as the favourite, but Raonic has a chance as long as he gets his strengths - his groundstrokes and big serves - in place. That said, Raonic has a relatively weak backhand and Nadal has traditionally preyed on the backhands of the best of players.
Legends’ singles: Fabrice Santoro vs Mark Philippousis
The Mavericks' leader Mark Philippoussis of Australia is in excellent form, beating Marat Safin 6-5, Goran Ivanisevic and Thomas Enqvist in his last three matches. However, he will now have to deal with the bag of tricks from the Aces coach and legend Fabrice Santoro, who accounted for Ivanisevic 6 – 3 in his last tie. Prior to that Santoro had lost to Carlos Moya 5 – 6 which puts him on a 2-1 track record this year.
It will be a battle of Santoro’s street smart skills versus Philippoussis’ big serves. Philippoussis is clearly in front on the head-to-head, having a 5-2 record and winning their last three encounters on hard courts. The Mavericks' legend also has momentum on his side, making him the favourite in this set.
Men’s doubles: Nadal/Dodig vs Gasquet/Roger-Vasselin (Probable)
The Aces started out with the pair of Gael Monfils and Rohan Bopanna, who won their fixture comfortably against the Japan Warriors. In the second tie Bopanna teamed up with Dodig to win 6-4 against Marcelo Melo and Dustin Brown. The Aces used the pair of Nadal /Dodig for their third fixture and that worked for them too, as the pair won 6-3 against Nestor/Berdych.
For the Mavericks, the Gasquet/Roger-Vasselin pair started on a victorious note against the accomplished Marcelo Melo, who had paired up with Dustin Brown. The same pair then went on to beat Paes/Herbert 6-5, after which they vanquished the Berdych/Nestor pair 6-3 to keep their unbeaten record intact. But today they used the pair of Roger-Vasselin and Treat Huey, who lost to the Paes-Herbert combine from Japan 4-6.
It's safe to assume that the Mavericks will go back to the Gasquet/Roger-Vasselin team for the tie tomorrow, who are still unbeaten together. Gasquet is currently the ninth ranked singles player in the world and the Frenchman is paired with the 17th-ranked doubles player, Roger-Vasselin, who has won three titles this year - they make for a formidable force together.
The Aces on the other hand have used three different pairs but are likely to use the Nadal/Dodig pair once again; the Spaniard brings great value with his left-handed repertoire. Considering that Dodig is ranked sixth in the doubles rankings, the two teams look evenly matched; this could be a cracker of a contest.
Women’s singles: Samantha Stosur vs Serena Williams (Probable)
While Serena Williams had a poor start to her tournament, losing to Kurumi Nara and Karolina Pliskova, she regained some of her swagger by defeating Ana Ivanovic 6-3. Today she seemed back to her best, as she unleashed her big serve and powerful groundstrokes to win her singles set 6-3.
Samantha Stosur also lost two in a row at the start of the tournament, to Pliskova and Maria Sharapova. But just like Serena, Stosur has turned things around, as she soundly beat Kristina Mladenovic of the OBI UAE Royals 6-3.
Serena and Stosur have plenty of history. On head to head, Serena leads 8 – 3 against the Australian, although the latter won their last encounter in 2014 at Beijing. Interestingly, Stosur, who has lost four of her last five matches against Serena, also won the last time the two players met in a Grand Slam - the 2011 US Open.
But Serena is the No.1 ranked singles player and the dominant force in women's tennis by a long margin. Although Stosur can trouble the hard-hitting American with her big serve and vicious topspin forehand, it will be an incredibly tough task to maintain that for an entire set.
Mixed Doubles: Bopanna/ Mirza vs Raonic/Williams (Probable)
While the pairing of Huey and Williams had moderate success, winning one and losing one, today the Mavericks decided to put two hard hitters together - Williams and Raonic. The big dose of power worked, as Williams/Raonic defeated Herbert/Lucic-Baroni 6-4. The Mavericks are likely to stick to this pair and will hope Serena continues her singles winning form.
The Aces will draw confidence from the fact that Bopanna/Mirza pair defeated the Nestor/Mladenovic pair 6-4. Mirza had earlier paired up with Dodig to defeat the Slammers pair of Kyrgios/Bencic 6-3, which was after the Mirza/Bopanna pair lost a tight opening fixture, 5-6 against Sharapova/Herbert of the Japan Warriors.
The Indian Aces will bank upon Mirza’s forehand and Bopanna’s big serves to keep them afloat, but they are up against a massive challenge with Williams and Raonic looking to hit the cover off the ball on every shot.
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 07 Dec 2015, 22:50 IST