SINGAPORE: Some of the current best and former greats of the tennis world will embark on Singapore from Friday (Dec 18) for the final leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). Here are seven things you need to know about one of the more unconventional tournaments on the global circuit.
1. THE FINAL: This is it. This is the finale. The winner takes all. After four legs in Kobe, Manila, New Delhi and Dubai since the start of December, the star-studded teams meet for the final matches in Singapore at the Indoor Stadium. The winner on Sunday will walk away with the trophy, not to mention the prize money cheque for US$1 million - not to be sneezed at.
Rafael Nadal will be missing from the line-up of the Indian Aces in Singapore. (Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe)
2. THE FACES: There are five teams taking part in this year’s tournament.
Singapore Slammers: The home side will be looking for a wave of vocal support as they push to lock in a finals berth. Currently sitting second on the table, it will be powerful Swiss Stan Wawrinka leading the charge, having replaced Novak Djokovic in the tournament.
Key players: Stan Wawrinka, Belinda Bencic, Nick Kyrgios.
UAE Royals: Led by the Fed Express, the Royals have won just four of their ten matches so far. Ana Ivanovic is unavailable but they are still likely to be tough opponents for the Slammers first up.
Key players: Roger Federer, Marin Cilic, Goran Ivanisevic
Indian Aces: Have been so hard to stop throughout this year’s IPTL and have lost just two matches so far, making them the favourites this weekend, despite no Rafa Nadal to lean on.
Key players: Fabrice Santoro, Sania Mirza, Bernard Tomic
Japan Warriors: The new kids have found it tough during the first four legs and will be making up the numbers in Singapore, despite some riches of tennis talent. No Maria Sharapova is a blow.
Key players: Marat Safin, Kurumi Nara, Philipp Kolschreiber
Philippine Mavericks: Based out of Manila, the Mavericks are running in third place coming into the Singapore leg. They will be led by a couple of legend veterans but are missing their usual stars Serena Williams and Richard Gasquet.
Key players: James Blake, Ivo Karlovic, Mark Philippoussis
Sania Mirza of the Indian Aces. (Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe)
3. THE FED: Let’s face it, the real star of the Singapore leg of IPTL is Roger Federer. The 17-time Grand Slam winner is the marquee man fans want to see, especially in the absence of Williams, Nadal and Sharapova.
Federer is lining up for the UAE Royals after leading the Mumbai Indians to the title in last year’s tournament. The Swiss master has been rusty and struggling for wins, with losses to Nadal, Murray and Karlovic in recent outings. He will be surely aiming to improve his record when his side faces the home-side Slammers on Friday.
“Personally, I love it. Call it an exhibition or not I don’t know what it is, but it’s a fun concept and that’s why I’m back here again,” he said after competing in the Indian leg last weekend.
4. THE FIXTURES:
Friday, Dec 18:
Japan Warriors v Philippine Mavericks – 4pm
Singapore Slammers v UAE Royals – 7.30pm
Saturday, Dec 19:
Philippines Mavericks v UAE Royals – 4pm
Singapore Slammers v Indian Aces – 7.30pm
Sunday Dec 20:
Finalist 1 v Finalist 2 – 4pm
5. THE FORMAT: Time to concentrate; this is no ordinary tennis tournament. Each head-to-head match between two sides consists of five sets, each a different tennis discipline: Men’s singles, women’s singles, mixed doubles, men’s doubles and men’s legends singles.
The sets follow the normal tennis rules, with each player or duo trying to reach six points to win the set. But there are a few additions to spice up the action. Each team is allowed one substitution per set, meaning a player who is struggling, for instance, can be subbed out for someone fresh. In scoring, there are no “advantages” (four points win the game) and players can call a power point once a set when receiving serve to double the value of the next point.
The victorious team is the one that wins the most games over the combined five sets, with points added to a running table over the five fixtures of the competition and a win-loss percentage determining which teams finish in the top two on the table, to then face off in the final. Simple, right?
6. THE FEUD: Tennis is often seen as the ultimate individual sport, so playing in a team is something many players have not experienced much before. While it may be a positive thing for some, do feel for Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios, teammates on the Singapore Slammers. After an infamous on-court sledge from the firebrand Australian last year, the pair still have not spoken. Awkward.
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios of the Singapore Slammers is not on speaking terms with teammate Stan Wawrinka. (Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe)
7. THE FUTURE: While tennis players hardly have an off-season, this is an opportune time, traditionally, for them to get some rest and recovery. While the big prize is on the line on Sunday, the first major of the 2016 – the Australian Open in Melbourne – is just a month away. Now is the time for some bragging rights, but to not get injured for when things heat up in the new year.