IPTL season 2 – The Format, Tour and The Final Showdown

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The Coca-Cola International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), this year, has been a 19 day extravaganza, hosted in five different cities of Asia and in each, for three consecutive evenings.

The tournament comprised of 28 league matches and a final between the top two teams in the final standings at the end of the league phase.

A total of five teams participated in the tournament. With 28 matches in all, one team in the form of the UAE Royals are playing an extra 12th match, whereas the four other teams play 11 matches each. Hence, the league standings are decided to be determined by percentage of games won instead of matches won.

As per rules, the UAE Royals were not to take into account the result for their 15-30 defeat against the Philippine Mavericks on 6th December in order to bring their match tally in parity with the other teams. The result, however, was counted for the Mavericks. This helped the Royals to improve their game won percentage significantly but made the tournament standings looks a farce.

First of all, the rule of game won percentage was implemented to do away with the problem of uneven matches played by the teams. Next, the decision to bring that uneven issue into equality was done by making a match count for the winning side only while pardoning the loser. Funnily enough, the final standings still remained to be counted according to percentage of games won rather than matches won, in spite of bringing the number of matches played to be equal by the most possible irrational manner.

Coming to the format, each team, other than the Singapore Slammers, plays in all the three evenings when the league takes place in its city. Each city hosts three matches for its home team and three other matches comprising the other teams for a total of six matches in three days.

For the Singapore leg, the tournament schedule gives the Slammers two matches. With the final scheduled on the third and final day of the leg, the Singapore, both the city and the franchise, are set to lose a match to host and play unlike the four other teams of the tournaments, as per initial schedule. But it will not be the case as the Slammers has qualified for the final.

However, in my opinion, had the organizers thought of playing two league matches (one comprising of the hosts Singapore Slammers) on the final day of the tour instead of a ‘final’ (which was not there in the inaugural season last year and which makes little sense in a league spread across the continent), the IPTL season 2 would have a total of 30 league matches with all five teams playing 12 matches each, a host team playing 3 home matches each and each city hosting six matches, thus putting all inequalities at rest. It also would have nullified an undue ‘home advantage’ to the Slammers for the final tomorrow against the Aces.

Now coming back to the tournament, it had been hugely popular and loved in all the cities that it visited. The curtain was raised at Kobe in Japan. Top-ranked Serena Williams was twice upset by Karolina Pliskova and Kurumi Nara respectively. The Japan Warriors lost all their home matches with veteran Leander Paes remaining winless.

Then the league came to Manilla, where the Philippine Mavericks, won all their home encounters with a rejuvenated Serena Williams, former Wimbledon runner-up Mark Philippoussis and Milos Raonic playing pivotal roles.

In New Delhi leg, the Indian Aces, buoyed by Rafael Nadal’s presence, won all their home matches as well. Nadal won 7 of the 8 sets played. In Dubai, the UAE Royals, however, lost two of their three matches, inspite of having Roger Federer in their ranks, who had a bad outing winning just 2 of the 9 sets competed. In Singapore, the hosts, the Slammers, ensured their qualification for the final.

The Japan Warriors, the debutant team this season, finished at the bottom. Their team was relatively weaker with Russian star Maria Sharapova and local boy Kei Nishikori playing just 2 matches. Leander Paes, P H Herbert and others tried hard to lift the team up but their effort was not enough. The fourth place went to the Philippine Mavericks, who had star Serena Williams. Milos Raonic and Richard Gasquet joined in for short spells.

Mark Philippoussis and James Blake came off well in their ‘legend’ encounters. However, they were undone with inconsistent performances from Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Jarmila Gajdosova and Treat Huey. One of the favourites for this season, the UAE Royals finished an unexpected third due to below-par performances from big names like Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic. Long and decent performances from both Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic and a short and superb spell from Ana Ivanovic saved the Royals from farther drop.

Coming to the final, it’s a battle between the defending champions and league leaders, the Indian Aces and the second-placed, the Singapore Slammers. The Aces had their superb success due to great consistency from the ‘doubles’ trio – Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig. Their stars, Rafael Nadal and Agnieszka Radwanska were sublime with the latter winning all her six women’s singles sets. Their ace ‘legend’ and captain, Fabrice Santoro, too was lethal in his sets. On the other hand, the Slammers had a good all-round talent pool with Belinda Bencic, Nick Kyrgios, Marcelo Melo, Dustin Brown and Karolina Pliskova – all coming in handy.

With the presence of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, the Slammers had great shots up their sleeves for the men’s singles set. However, the two doubles sets will be more competitive with both the teams having great combinations. A lot depends on the fitness of Santoro for the Aces, who was taken ill and even could not play for two matches. A fit Santoro will have the upper hand in the legend’s singles against Carlos Moya. The Aces’ unbeaten queen, Randwanska too will be the favourite for the women’s singles.

No matter who wins the final, tennis will be the ultimate winner…

Photo by James Marvin Phelps

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