The UAE Royals began their 2015 International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) season in impressive fashion but lost steam mid-way through the tournament, only to have a late charge towards the end. Unfortunately for them, the lean period in between cost the 2014 runners-up a chance to return to the final and fight for the title again.
Repeated failure to protect big leads became the architect of their downfall as they plummeted from the top spot to fourth at one point during the five-city league. Nevertheless, the Dubai franchise can still hold their head high as they managed to finish third in the Team Standings.
They can also be proud of the fact that they were the last team to beat the eventual champions, Singapore Slammers.
With an eclectic mix of multiple Slam champions, top-10 players and talented youngsters, the Royals were always supposed to be strong contenders for the title in the second season of the IPTL.
Goran Ivanisevic, Marin Cilic and Kristina Mladenovic returned to the Royals squad from the 2014 season and were seen as the players pivotal for 2015 success because of their acquaintance with the team.
Here's a complete breakdown of the team's performance in the second season of the league:
Their start to the new season lived up to the expectations as they notched two back-to-back victories in the Kobe leg over the Singapore Slammers and the Japan Warriors. It was a collective team effort and one of the highlights of the Royals’ Japan leg was the upset victory engineered by its women’s singles player Ana Ivanovic over the five-time Major winner Maria Sharapova.
Their incredible 30-15 hammering of the Warriors turned out to be the second-biggest margin of defeat at the IPTL2, only to be bettered by the Indian Aces’ 30-12 rout of the Mavericks.
The good work was soon undone as they were unable to rise to the occasion against the Serena Williams-led home team, Philippine Mavericks at Manila. It was a big blow before facing the defending champions Indian Aces who were in sizzling form at that time.
Powered by the presence of Rafael Nadal and the women’s doubles World No. 1 Sania Mirza, the Aces pulverized the Royals 30-18. The UAE squad unfortunately failed to win even a single set in this tie.
But the Virat Kohli-owned outfit showed great character and resilience to bounce back just a day later when they beat the Slammers 26-23. Some well-coordinated teamwork was on display as the leading singles players – Ana Ivanovic and Tomas Berdych – both contributed to the win.
It was, however, the next four matches that put paid to their hopes of making it to the summit clash. The Royals’ New Delhi outing turned out to be forgettable as they inexplicably slumped to a defeat to the bottom-placed Japan Warriors and were subsequently pummeled by the hosts.
The loss to the Warriors was hard to fathom as the UAE franchise looked in good nick, with Ana Ivanovic and Goran Ivanisevic both winning their respective sets. However, the Royals failed to grab a single more set after that which ultimately proved costly for them.
The team’s next assignment saw a few changes as both Ivanovic and Berdych’s IPTL2 obligations were over. While Mladenovic took over from the Serb in women’s singles, Roger Federer joined the team as its marquee men’s singles player in the last match at Delhi.
However, Federer could not get the better of his long-time rival Nadal in the IPTL2’s most eagerly-awaited contest, as the Royals went down again.
If it was thought that the cheers from the home crowd would turn around the fortunes of the UAE Royals, then it was a huge disappointment for the Dubai team in their first two home matches. Against the Mavericks and the Slammers, the Royals led mid-way and looked poised for a win but collapsed in the end.
Much to the team’s dismay, this period saw them lose four matches on the trot as they kept searching desperately to regain their lost touch. Even their icon player Federer turned out to be a pale shadow of himself as he went 0-6 in his first six sets which included defeats to Ivo Karlovic and Andy Murray.
It was finally in their last assignment at home that the hosts succeeded in summoning their fighting spirit and emerge from the slump that had plagued them so far. The 17-time Slam champion Federer was not there but Marin Cilic & Co. showed great team bonding and chemistry to prevail over the Warriors.
The rejuvenated Royals carried their winning momentum on to Singapore and posted a convincing victory over the hosts. Federer returned to the team and this time he was not to be denied!
Even though he did lose in mixed doubles partnering Mladenovic, the Swiss maestro came to the party in men’s doubles and men’s singles. The singles set was an exhilarating contest between compatriots Stan Wawrinka and Federer, and the elder Swiss reigned supreme 6-4. The triumph helped to haul the team up to third in the Team Standings.
The Royals’ final league assignment turned out to be a humdinger where they were edged 23-24 by the Mavericks in a thrilling ‘Super Shootout’. 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic tried his best but it was the big-serving Karlovic who had the final word and clinched the victory in the Shootout.
The UAE Royals might have missed out on a final berth but the way they fought back towards the end deserves to be appreciated. Here’s hoping they can learn from their mistakes and come back with a bang in 2016.
UAE Royals 2015 team members
Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Mari Cilic, Goran Ivanisevic, Ana Ivanovic, Kristina Mladenovic, Daniel Nestor.
Report Card in 2015 – 5 wins, 7 losses
UAE Royals 26-20 Singapore Slammers (Kobe)
Japan Warriors 15-30 UAE Royals (Kobe)
UAE Royals 26-23 Singapore Slammers (Manila)
UAE Royals 26-22 Japan Warriors (Dubai)
Singapore Slammers 23-27 UAE Royals (Singapore)
Philippine Mavericks 29-18 UAE Royals (Manila)
Indian Aces 30-18 UAE Royals (Manila)
UAE Royals 21-24 Japan Warriors (New Delhi)
Indian Aces 30-19 UAE Royals (New Delhi)
UAE Royals 24-26 Philippine Mavericks (Dubai)
UAE Royals 24-27 Singapore Slammers (Dubai)
Philippine Mavericks 24-23 UAE Royals (Singapore)