IPTL: Feliciano Lopez, Marat Safin come up big
Feliciano Lopez (centre) and Ivan Dodig (right) celebrates their doubles win. Photo: IPTL

Thursday was the closest day yet of the 2016 IPTL, with both matches being decided in the fifth set. Battles at the top and bottom of the leaderboard set the stage for an epic final weekend as play wrapped up in Singapore on day six of the IPTL.

Japan Warriors 23 – 20 UAE Royals

Looking to finally climb out of the basement, the Japan  Warriors came out swinging with their hero from the previous day, as Fernando Verdasco got the Warriors off to a flying start by blowing out Pablo Cuevas in the opening set 6-2. Cuevas would get a measure of revenge in the second set, as he and Daniel Nestor snapped their recent skid in Singapore by knocking off Verdsaco and Jean-Julien Rojer in the second set in a tiebreak to close the gap to three games. Nestor would then team up with Martina Hingis to put the Royals ahead with a 6-1 victory in the mixed doubles.

Kurumi Nara prepares to serve in the fourth set. Photo: IPTL
Kurumi Nara prepares to serve in the fourth set. Photo: IPTL

The back-and-forth continued in the fourth set as Kurumi Nara blew out Hingis in the women’s singles 6-0 in 19 minutes to give the Warriors the narrow lead heading into the fifth set. Marat Safin entered the final set with his Warriors up by 18-14, meaning that Goran Ivanisevic needed to win the set by four for the Royals to avoid falling into last place. A wild set would go the way of Ivanisevic 6-4, meaning he needed to win two more games in a row to send the match to a tiebreak, but Safin had other ideas, holding his first service game to end the match in favour of the Warriors.

Indian Aces 23 – 22 Singapore Slammers

Just like the first match of the day, the battle between the Indian Aces and Singapore Slammers would have major implications on the standings heading into the final days of the IPTL. Carlos Moya got the Slammers off to a strong start, breaking early and hanging on to edge Mark Philippoussis in the opening set. Kiki Bertens then put the hosts in control by dominating Kirsten Flipkens in the second set to give the Slammers a seven-point lead after two sets.

Carlos Moya (left) shakes hands with Mark Philippoussis after their legends set. Photo: IPTL
Carlos Moya (left) shakes hands with Mark Philippoussis after their legends set. Photo: IPTL

The Aces stars Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza would begin to turn things around in the third set, cutting the lead down to one point by bageling Bertens and Nick Kyrgios. The men’s doubles came down to the wire, as the Aces’ Ivan Dodig and Feliciano Lopez and Slammers’ Marcos Baghdatis and Marcelo Melo were neck and neck right down to the final point, which the Aces won at 6-6 in the tiebreak to level the match heading into the fifth set. It was winner take all between Kyrgios and Lopez in the men’s singles and fittingly, it came down to a tiebreak. With the set tied at 5-5 and the match tied at 22-22, it was the more experienced Lopez who came up clutch, taking the tiebreak 7-4 to seal a comeback win for the Aces.

The Indian Aces now head home at the top of the leaderboard. The tour will shift to Hyderabad, India for the final three days, with only two days of round robin action remaining for teams to book their place in the final. Everything is still to play for, as six points, the equivalent of two wins, separate the top and bottom teams. The Aces are in first with 14 points, followed by the Slammers at 11. The Warriors sit just one point back of a spot in the final with 10 points, while the Royals will need some big results as they bring up the rear with eight points. The top two teams after Saturday’s play will contest the final on Sunday.