As he entered his post-match press at the IG Stadium following his side’s IPTL tie against the Philippines Mavericks, Rafael Nadal was ambushed by a journalist seeking a selfie. The Spaniard realised he had seen the reporter who was trying to squeeze himself in a photograph frame with him. “Weren’t you there at the other press conference as well,” he queried.
Indeed, the man had attempted to get a selfie earlier in the day at the RK Khanna stadium, where Nadal was hosting a tennis clinic for youngsters.While this particular fan may have been noticed for his persistency, the Spaniard had no shortage of supporters during his time on the court at the IG Stadium. While the 15,000-seater stadium was less than half full, those present made clear whose side they were on.
They first waited patiently through the first tie and cheered more out of duty when veteran Leander Paes and his doubles partner Hugues Herbert turned around a 6-12 deficit after two sets to help the Japan Warriors beat UAE Royals 24-21. But the crowd’s joy seemed far more heartfelt later during the player introductions ahead of the Indian Aces-Philippines Mavericks tie. Nadal was the last man to exit the tunnel and the peak-adulation was reached. Rafa-Rafa they chanted. “We love you Rafa,” screamed a girl.
The Indian Aces probably didn’t need Nadal on Thursday. By the time Fabrice Santoro crushed an error prone Mark Philippoussis 6-1 in the third set, they were already 18-4 up. Aces would still have triumphed even if they were bageled in the next two sets. But with Nadal featuring in both the subsequent matches — doubles with Rohan Bopanna against Treat Huey and Roger Edouard-Vasselin and singles against the Frenchman Vasselin, that was unlikely to happen.
There were moments when he pulled out shots that would have won him applause from the most partisan of audiences. There were few in the doubles, a format he doesn’t play often. The singles were another matter.
The set was full of the gigantic spin generating whipping forehands. When Vesselin tried to force the pace, the Spaniard slowed things down by precise slices that let him set up winning shots. And even when Vesselin thought he had found an opening, it was slammed shut ruthlessly. Down a break, Vesselin had a chance at 40-30 up to make it 4-3. He seemed to have that chance when Nadal shanked a return to lob a dolly at the net. Vesselin however hit what should have been a winner too close to the Spaniard who smashed a double handed backhand down the line.
Result: Aces bt Mavericks 30-12.