After a dismal couple of days in the Manila leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), the UAE Royals finally regained their winning touch as they edged past the Singapore Slammers 26-23 on Tuesday. Both their leading singles players came to the party as Ana Ivanovic and Tomas Berdych played crucial roles in delivering the win for the Dubai-based franchise, thus hauling them up to the third position in the Team Standings.
New Delhi is now set to experience the IPTL extravaganza as the Royals will lock horns with the bottom-placed Japan Warriors in the first match at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on Thursday. The Royals will have an added fillip in the form of 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who is expected to join the UAE team from the second match of the Delhi leg. If the Swiss maestro arrives early, he could replace Berdych even in the first tie.
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With or without Federer, on paper, the tie seems in favour of the Royals as the Japan team has failed to register even a single win so far. But Goran Ivanisevic’s men cannot be complacent as the Warriors do present some challenges.
Let us have a look at how the sets might pan out:
Women’s singles: Ana Ivanovic vs Kurumi Nara (probable)
The 2014 IPTL runners-up will hope that their leading singles player Ana Ivanovic will unleash her ferocious forehands and claim victory in this set. The 2008 French Open champion’s form had been up-and-down at Manila as she showed signs of nervousness and ended up on the losing side in her first two matches.
But she made a remarkable turnaround in her last tie against the Singapore Slammers when she stormed back from a break down to defeat the big-hitting Karolina Pliskova.
The young Czech was ahead by a break several times and she even led in the ensuing tie-break but Ivanovic showed her trademark fighting spirit and resilience to claw back for the win.
If the Serb can hold up that form, she should have an easier time in her first match at New Delhi. She has met the World No. 81 Kurumi Nara once before and it was a 6-2, 6-3 hammering from the former top-ranked player.
That said, the 5’1’’ Japanese has nimble footwork and an impressive backhand, and Ivanovic needs to ensure that she doesn’t give Nara a chance to settle down.
Men’s singles: Tomas Berdych vs Philipp Kohlschreiber (probable)
When Tomas Berdych’s power-packed forehand is finding the right spots, he is a thoroughly intimidating challenge for any opponent. The sixth-ranked Czech showed that in abundance in the Royals’ last match as he got the better of Nick Kyrgios.
Berdych’s win was a much-needed boost for the team who had tasted defeat in their two previous ties. The Czech had been very competitive in his sets against both Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal, but errors at crucial junctures proved costly.
Berdych finding the accuracy on his strokes wouldn't be music to Philipp Kohlschreiber’s ears. The German player met the Czech in the Kobe leg of the 2015 IPTL where the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up pummeled him for a 6-3 triumph.
With his explosive game, the Royals ace has always had the upper hand in this rivalry as he holds a huge 8-1 lead over the German. Their second meeting at the IPTL doesn’t look likely to have a different outcome.
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic vs Marat Safin (probable)
Goran Ivanisevic and his ruthless serve had been off the mark for a couple of matches, but the 2001 Wimbledon winner looked rejuvenated in his last tie against Carlos Moya. After a 6-4 win over the 1998 French Open champion, Ivanisevic should be feeling confident and raring to go in the Delhi leg.
He faces former World No. 1 and two-time Major champion Marat Safin in his first match. The mercurial Russian hasn’t looked his imperious self in the sets he has played so far, and to compound his problems even further, he got injured in Manila. Former Australian Open runner-up Thomas Enqvist was thus brought in to don the shoes of Safin in Japan’s last match.
The most recent encounter between Ivanisevic and Safin happened in Kobe where the Croat reigned supreme with a score of 6-4. Having just recovered from an injury, the Russian might not be in the best shape to counter the fast-paced tennis of Ivanisevic, and the latter would look to grab a crucial win for the Royals in this set.
Men’s doubles: Nestor/Berdych vs Paes/Herbert (probable)
This has the potential to be a very entertaining match-up. Interestingly, the Japan Warriors will likely have the lion’s share of the crowd support in this set as home hero and 17-time Grand Slam champion Leander Paes will be turning up for the Warriors.
Paes will be looking to regale the IGI Stadium with his clever shot-making and deft touches at the net. His partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert is no slouch either, having won the US Open men’s doubles crown this year.
On the other hand, Paes’ former partner and fellow legend Daniel Nestor too will be looking to do his bit for the Royals. The Canadian, in tandem with Berdych, won their most recent meeting with the Warriors and they will fight tooth and nail for the win this time as well.
If both the sides can bring forth their respective weapons, this set looks very likely to be decided in a tie-break.
Mixed doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic vs Herbert/Lucic (probable)
It is advantage Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic in this particular set as form-wise and experience-wise they are a far more solid team. After a bit of struggle, the two-time Major winning French-Canadian duo were back to their best during their win over the Singapore franchise. That should put them in a much better position heading into this tie.
Even though Herbert is an accomplished doubles player, his partner Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is more renowned as a singles star. They are a pair made from scratch solely for the IPTL, and even though they could make this a competitive set, the Royals will look to have the final word.
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 09 Dec 2015, 21:03 IST