NEW DELHI: Just before the second tie of the day between Indian Aces and Manila Mavericks began, the big screen showed a short video of the Aces players’ individual messages to India. As soon as Roger Federer’s face appeared, the stands roared, even though he was scheduled to arrive only on early Sunday morning.
Even so, Aces set the best stage for the superstar’s arrival with a 26-25 super shootout victory, despite being down in the dumps at the beginning of the fifth match. Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza lost 5-6 to Daniel Nestor and Kirsten Flipkens, Cedric Pioline lost 4-6 to Mark Philippoussis to put Aces in trouble after the first two matches.
Gael Monfils and Bopanna overcame Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Treat Huey 6-5 to keep Aces in the race. But Tsonga quelled the challenge by besting Monfils 6-4 to leave Ana Ivanovic with all the heavy lifting. The Serbian Grand Slam winner obliged with a 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens setting the stage for Monfils to edge Tsonga 10-7 in the super shootout.
Later, the team danced its way into fans’ hearts as Bollywood music blared. All of them had practised specific moves, even though none of them could qualify as being graceful. “We just let Gael do his thing and followed suit. None of us are adept with that kind of footwork,” Sania joked.
Earlier in the day, the International Premier Tennis League’s India leg kicked off with loud music and cheerleaders trying to electrify the unimpressive crowd that didn’t seem too much into it. The turnout became respectable towards the latter stages of the opening tie between UAE Royals and Singapore Slammers.
Royals obliterated Slammers 29-16 in a high-quality display. In the opening men’s singles set, World No 9 Marin Cilic trumped two-time Grand Slam winner Lleyton Hewitt 6-3. That began a run of three more wins for Royals as Nenad Zimonjic joined hands with Cilic to beat Nick Kyrgios and Hewitt 6-2 in men’s doubles, Goran Ivanisevic routed Patrick Rafter 6-1 in past-champions’ singles and the duo of Zimonjic and Kristina Mladenovic outplayed Kyrgios and Daniela Hantuchova 6-4.
Of those three encounters, one stood out for its class. Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion, was in such fine form that even the crowd wondered why he didn’t play anymore. Chants of Goran-Goran echoed as the lefty whacked serves, forehands and backhands with the precision of a diamond-cutter. “It is a great crowd out here,” he later said.
In the final match, women’s singles, Hantuchova restored some pride for the vanquished as she pipped World No 8 Caroline Wozniacki 6-5. Even though her team lost, she was in a jolly mood.