A Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash is always a treat for tennis fans. What began in 2004, during the third round of the ATP Miami Masters event in which an 18-year-old Spaniard defeated the Swiss, the then world No. 1, has become part of tennis folklore.
Now, in a little over four months, tennis fans in the country will witness two of the best players slug it out in New Delhi during the second edition of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL).
Their’s is the marquee match-up — slated for December 12 — that will add spice to the Indian edition of IPTL.
Nadal, who had withdrawn from the inaugural edition last year, will represent the Indian Aces, while Federer, who was part of the Indian team last year, will be a part of the UAE Royals. Meanwhile, reigning world No. 1 Novak Djokovic will be turning out for the Singapore Slammers after appearing for the UAE team last year.
The switch took place during the Player Draft that was held in April this year, where Japan Warriors was unveiled as the fifth franchise in the tournament which already has defending champions Indian Aces, the UAE Royals, the Singapore Slammers and the Manila Mavericks.
Giving Nadal company at Aces will be Gael Monfils, Agnieszka Radwanska and Fabrice Santoro. This year’s French Open doubles champion Ivan Dodig and India’s doubles stars Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna complete the line-up.
On the upcoming second season, IPTL founder and managing director Mahesh Bhupathi said: “The first season has brought some of the world’s biggest tennis stars to cities in Asia for the first time in an all-new format. This year, we have added Japan, and with both Nadal and Nishikori in the mix, it will surely be an exciting prospect.”
Leander Paes will be another addition this year. Like Nadal, Paes too had turned down the offer to be part of IPTL’s inaugural edition.
In the second edition, however, Bhupathi’s former doubles partner will play for Japan Warriors, who will have the company of Kei Nishikori.
With the presence of Nadal, Nishikori and now the 42-year-old Paes, Bhupathi is confident the second edition of IPTL will be bigger and even better.
“It’s obviously great to have him this year around. There are very few players on the tennis court who can entertain like Leander, and this format is tailor-made for his style of play. When it comes to net-play he is easily the fastest player in the world, so it will be exciting to watch him in action,” Bhupathi said.
Since it’s inception last year, the format, the style of play and the franchise-based league’s viability was under the scanner. Bhupathi, though, quashed all criticism saying, “Yes, there was scepticism last year, but the manner in which players embraced the concept and the level of competition was such that we have managed to tick off all the boxes.”
The second edition will begin in Japan (December 2-4) and then proceed to Philippines (December 6-8), India (December 10-12), Dubai (December 14-16) and will finally round off in Singapore (December 18-20), with tickets for the India leg going on sale from August 2.
Going forward, Bhupathi admits India face a tough fight when they take on Czech Republic at the Davis Cup world group play-offs in Delhi next month.
“I have just got a call from Berdych (Tomas) last night asking me about hotel details… so they (Czech) are coming in full strength and we need nothing short of a mini-miracle if we have to beat them in Davis Cup,” he said.
Sumit Nagal may be on cloud nine after bagging his junior Wimbledon doubles crown last month, but his mentor Mahesh Bhupathi has a word of caution for him.
“Winning the Wimbledon at 17 is a confidence booster no doubt, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves… the transition from the juniors to the seniors is not going to be easy. It’s like taking 200 steps and he has to take them one step at a time. So the next 3-4 years will be crucial for him. We can give him all the support in terms of training that he requires,” Bhupathi added.