On a December evening, the high-voltage International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) kicked off at Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi. Opening the day’s proceedings, it was the Obi UAE Royals facing off against the Legendari Japan Warriors. The second match paired up the Micromax Indian Aces and Philippines Mavericks with Rafael Nadal being the highlight of the night.
Obi UAE Royals - Legendari Japan Warriors
The tie started with Serbian Ana Ivanovic winning easily against Japan's Kurumi Nara in only 26 minutes. In the legends singles, an injured Marat Safin was replaced by Thomas Enqvist for Legendari Japan. Goran Ivanisevic took the court for Obi UAE and proved to be the mightier of the two. Egged on by the crowd, Ivanisevic won the set 6-4 to give the Royals a two set lead, and winning the hearts of the nation in the process. The lackluster crowd finally came alive in the next match, when home-standing Leander Paes stepped on court. The match itself was extremely interesting, where Paes was paired with Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert. They managed to win 6-3, which ended up being the turning point for the Warriors.
In the men’s singles, Herbert stepped in for Philipp Kohlschreiber who called in sick. Boosted with the previous set win, Herbert created an upset by winning 6-4 against Tomas Berdych. That helped equal the score for his team. The last set was both the shortest and the most uninteresting. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Herbert unexpectedly won 6-2 over the experienced doubles pairing of Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor to help finish the match off for Japan. Legendari won the match, 24-21.
Micromax Indian Aces - Philippines Mavericks
Tennis fans in Delhi enjoyed an ace evening as the home team got off to a terrific start at IGI Stadium. With Rafael Nadal at the helm of affairs for the Indian Aces, the match started with the Indian mixed doubles pairing of Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna. Mirza-Bopanna battled Philippines duo Ajla Tomljanovic and Treat Huey. The home team scored a convincing 6-2 win over Tomljanovic-Huey. In the women’s singles, Agnieszka Radwanska made her debut in the IPTL and had a short stint on the court in whipping Jarmila Gajdosova 6-1. Fabrice Santoro then showcased his vintage magic to Delhi fans in the legends match against an out-of-rhythm Mark Philippoussis. Santoro took the set easily at 6-1.
The crowd came alive yet again, when Rafael Nadal came on the court for the first time on opening day. With shouts of his name ringing out and some fans chanting Roger Federer's name in reply. Nadal and Bopanna managed to keep their focus to beat Eduoard Roger-Vasselin and Huey in doubles play 6-4, Much of the match was decided on some impeccable net play by Bopanna. Men's singles were up next with Nadal battling Roger-Vasselin. Despite being 3-0 down against Nadal at one point, Roger-Vasselin tried a late fight back. He was unable to sustain it, and lost the set 6-4. The Aces would take the match in a blowout 30-12, the biggest in IPTL history.
Nadal and Bopanna celebrate/Photo: IPTL
In an exclusive talk with VAVEL, Indian Ace Rohan Bopanna said that he loved the IPTL, and especially the electrifying home crowd. He said he was looking forward to seeing a bigger crowd in the following two days, and urged them to support the Aces vociferously. Rafael Nadal too had nothing but praise for the IPTL, saying in a post-match interview, “The IPTL is a great format, everything is so quick, and anything can happen. It’s great to play at home, in front of home fans, and definitely the home advantage helps the team to win."
Nadal would continue by saying that the IPTL is great practice for the upcoming 2016 season, “For me, this time of the year, it is great to be here, it’s the perfect match practice. I am training hard, and I get to play some competitive matches against some good players."
The Spaniard is scheduled to battle Roger Federer in a big match-up on Saturday. That match pits Nadal's Mavericks against Federer and the UAE Royals. Rafa said “I will give it my best. The format is so quick, and everything moves so fast, but I am looking forward to playing against Federer on Saturday.”