The Manila leg of the 2015 International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) has not turned out the way the UAE Royals would have liked, as they slumped to their second consecutive defeat on Monday. The Rafael Nadal-led Indian Aces pulverized the Dubai franchise 30-18, because of which the Japan leg’s table-toppers have slipped down to the fourth position in the Team Standings.
The Royals, who are desperately looking for a turnaround, face a familiar opponent in their last assignment at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, as they lock horns with the Singapore Slammers on Tuesday. As most of their fans will remember with delight, they had defeated the Slammers 26-20 at Kobe last week.
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Can they bring up an encore of that performance? We try to find out:
Women’s singles: Ana Ivanovic vs Karolina Pliskova (probable)
The last time the UAE Royals and the Singapore Slammers squared off, it was the young Belinda Bencic who took the court against Ana Ivanovic. And the Serb won convincingly with a 6-3 scoreline.
But the Slammers can also opt for the World No. 11 Karolina Pliskova, who won both the singles sets she played in the Japan leg. With the 2008 French Open champion struggling to find her blazing forehands in Manila, it looks likely that the big-serving Pliskova will initiate the attack against the former World No. 1 on Tuesday (assuming, of course, that the Czech is preferred over Bencic for the singles).
That is not at all a rosy prospect for the Royals. Pliskova has a 2-0 record over the Serb, which includes a win this year on the hardcourts of Dubai. With 10 double faults, Ivanovic currently is second on the Double Faults Leaderboard – something that no player will be proud of. She was even substituted in favour of her teammate Kristina Mladenovic in Monday’s match against the Indian Aces.
The World No. 16 needs to rebound quickly, or else the road ahead will get even tougher for the Royals.
Men’s singles: Tomas Berdych vs Nick Kyrgios (probable)
Much like Ana Ivanovic, UAE Royals’ Tomas Berdych needs to find solutions to the problems plaguing his game. He has lost both his sets against Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal in Manila, and is coming into this tie low on confidence.
To make matters even worse for the sixth-ranked Czech, he had failed to summon his best against the lethal ball-striking of Slammers’ Nick Kyrgios as he lost 2-6 in their last meeting.
Berdych has a chance for redemption when he takes on the Aussie for the second time at the 2015 IPTL. Even though he went down against Nadal on Monday, he still gave a much better account of himself as he stretched the Spaniard to a tie-break.
Those familiar Berdych forehands which have wreaked havoc against the top players for years were on show, and he also displayed effortless movement across the court.
Berdych’s spirited display against Rafa could motivate him to play a far more competitive set with Kyrgios when they face off this time.
Men’s doubles: Berdych/Nestor vs Melo/Brown (probable)
The Kobe meeting between these two pairs turned into a thoroughly entertaining set of tennis, which the Royals duo won 6-5. While Tomas Berdych patrolled the baseline efficiently, it was the former top-ranked doubles player Daniel Nestor who showed his wonderful reflexes and nifty volleying skills to edge past the Melo-Brown pair.
On the other hand, the current World No. 1 Marcelo Melo had the flamboyant Dustin Brown for company, who returned relentlessly and produced his customary magic at the net to keep the Slammers in contention.
This set has all the ingredients to become the most closely-contested encounter of the afternoon, which will keep the spectators thoroughly engaged. If the current form of the players holds up, it will likely go all the way to a tie-break.
Mixed doubles: Nestor/Mladenovic vs Melo/Pliskova (probable)
Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic need to overhaul their strategy overnight to have any success against the duo of Marcelo Melo and Karolina Pliskova. Much was expected from the two-time Slam champions during their tie against the Indian Aces, but the French-Canadian pair came a cropper as Nestor repeatedly dumped volleys into the net and Mladenovic failed to find her first serve.
They did triumph in their last encounter against the Slammers, with an impressive score of 6-3. However, that cannot guarantee that things will go hassle-free for them tomorrow, as Melo and Pliskova are both accomplished doubles exponents.
Until and unless Nestor and Mladenovic bring back their lost camaraderie and coordination, the Royals cannot breathe easy.
Legends’ singles: Goran Ivanisevic vs Carlos Moya (probable)
Just like the other members of the Royals, their legend Goran Ivanisevic too needs to introspect and come up with a confidence-boosting exhibition of his skills – more specifically his serve. Ivanisevic’s usually reliable weapon has been a shadow of its former self as the Croat ended up the vanquished in his last two outings - against Mark Philippoussis and Fabrice Santoro.
Ivanisevic will probably take comfort from the fact that he beat Singapore’s Carlos Moya 6-3 just a few days back. He will, if nothing else, have a familiar opponent across the net, and he can employ the same tactics that he brought onto the court at Kobe to get the better of his Spanish adversary.
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.