After a very successful Kobe leg where they were placed at the top of the 2015 International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) table, the UAE Royals didn’t live up to expectations in the subsequent matches. The team has been in a state of disarray recently, with disappointing outings at Manila and New Delhi. In their last two legs – in Manila and New Delhi – they managed to register just one win of five matches.
Now down in third, the Royals will be banking on the vast experience of their star player, Roger Federer, to haul them up the leaderboard. They missed the services of the Swiss maestro initially, who joined the IPTL2 in the Dubai franchise’s last assignment, against the Indian Aces. If the whole team can click with this added source of inspiration, the Federer-led Royals certainly can make merry in the rest of the event.
(For tickets to UAE Royals matches, click here).
Their first test at home is against the fourth-placed Philippine Mavericks at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Monday. How will it go for the Royals?
We try to find out:
Women’s singles: Kristina Mladenovic vs Ajla Tomljanovic (probable)
This is a matchup that we can expect to see more of in the future. Mladenovic and Tomljanovic are familiar rivals, being born in the same year and having known each other since the juniors. Both have junior Slam titles as well and are highly regarded on the circuit.
While Mladenovic made a more seamless transition to the WTA Tour, capturing two mixed doubles Major titles, it is interesting to note that she has lost both her career meetings to her Croatian-Australian rival. With her smooth groundstrokes, the 65th-ranked Tomljanovic can be a major threat to the big names and she already boasts of wins over Agnieszka Radwanska and Jelena Jankovic among others.
While the 29th-ranked Frenchwoman put up a brilliant show at the IPTL in 2014, this year she has flattered to deceive. Her big-hitting game has been riddled with way too many errors, and it is imperative that she plugs the loopholes soon for the Royals to have any chance for a win.
Men’s singles: Marin Cilic vs Edouard Roger-Vasselin (probable)
It is widely expected that Federer will not feature in the Royals’ first match of the Dubai leg. In his absence, World No. 13 Marin Cilic will be donning the shoes of the UAE team’s leading singles player.
With his attacking game, Edouard Roger-Vasselin could pose a few problems for the Croat. The two players are tied at one win apiece, and their most recent showdown – at the 2014 Miami Masters – went the Frenchman’s way.
Cilic is yet to make his singles debut at the 2015 IPTL whereas Roger-Vasselin has played two singles sets and can make his experience count.
Having said that, the Frenchman is currently more proficient as a doubles player, and Cilic’s big breakthrough in singles came after the pair’s last meeting, when he triumphed at the 2014 US Open.
It would be foolish to rule out Cilic’s chances even though he might be rusty.
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic vs Mark Philippoussis (probable)
Former Wimbledon and US Open runner-up Mark Philippoussis has made his ruthless serve do most of the talking at this IPTL, notching five wins for his team.
That serve has seen 34 aces whizzing past his hapless opponents, and as a result of which the Aussie now occupies the second spot in the Aces leaderboard.
The 39-year-old, whose career was hampered by a series of knee injuries, is now content playing exhibition and team tennis matches, looking very sharp through it all. However, the New Delhi leg was a downer as the Australian went down to both his opponents in the two matches he played.
That should be welcome news for Goran Ivanisevic of the UAE Royals.
The former Wimbledon winner, who had been struggling in his last few matches, slumped to a 2-6 defeat to Philippoussis in their last IPTL meeting at Manila. However, the Croat showed quite a few signs of improvement in his last set against the Indian Aces’ Fabric Santoro.
If he can build on those positives, Ivanisevic can hope to reverse the result this time.
Men’s doubles: Nestor/Cilic vs Roger-Vasselin/Huey (probable)
Marin Cilic is a relative newcomer at the 2015 IPTL, so it is tough to say what to expect from the pair of Cilic and Nestor. Even though the Croat made a decent debut, partnering Roger Federer in his last match, it cannot be said for sure whether he would be able to get the necessary assistance from Nestor.
The legendary Canadian, who holds two Grand Slam titles, has appeared to look out-of-sorts in his last few matches, and unless he comes to the party, it will be a monumental task for the singles expert Cilic alone.
Roger-Vasselin and Huey, on the other hand, are both known for their exploits in doubles. They have played three sets together and although each of these has been unsuccessful, all have been closely contested. That experience could very well propel them to spring a surprise.
Mixed doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic vs Huey/Gajdosova (probable)
Built from scratch, the Treat Huey-Jarmila Gajdosova pair has taken the court just once at the IPTL2. And their performance wasn’t too shabby either as they just got edged in a tie-break. That should provide them great impetus ahead of a very important showdown with the Royals’ Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic.
With a little bit of luck, they might just even topple the heavy favourites and far more accomplished duo of Nestor and Mladenovic. For much of their last few sets, the Frenchwoman and the Canadian have looked out of sync, lacking any coordination, which led to their downfall thrice during the IPTL2.
If they cannot rebound in time, the Royals’ quest to get back inside the top two on the leaderboard will get more and more difficult.
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 14 Dec 2015, 09:09 IST