But on Monday, as the League moved from Japan to Singapore, Mahesh Bhupathi, founder and managing director of the IPTL, was forced to issue a statement confirming that neither player would take part.
The statement explained: “We have had challenges this year, and we were hoping to get past them.
“With the current economic climate in India and the uncertainty of spending money, I reached out to both Roger and Serena to explain the situation.
“They have both been very supportive of the IPTL the first two seasons and we look forward to bringing them in future years.”
It reduces the number of top-20 players to Kei Nishikori—who is not scheduled to appear again after his three-day participation in Japan—Nick Kyrgios for the Singapore Slammers, and Tomas Berdych for the UAE Royals.
Eugenie Bouchard, originally signed up with the Indian Aces, pulled out before the tour began.
The tournament had already launched a reduced programme this year amid speculation about financial struggles and difficulties in attracting headline names. The tennis season has been punctuated in 2016 by major injury absences—Williams, Federer, and Rafael Nadal among them—and a punishing schedule that included the Olympic Games.
Both factors trimmed the IPTL tour to just three legs, with Dubai missing from the schedule and a diminishing number of headliners for the four teams involved. Yet, as the event moved to Singapore without Williams, a release from the IPTL added:
“With the global economy struggling and ticket sales at what they are, we’ve reached out to Serena. She has been super supportive the last two seasons and we look forward to having her back next year.”
Williams played only eight tournaments this year, but reached the finals of three Majors and Indian Wells, and she won at Wimbledon and Rome. However she has not played since losing in the semis of the US Open, nursing a shoulder injury through the Asian swing and the WTA Finals.
Singapore was thus her only appearance before opening her Australian Open campaign in Auckland at the start of 2017.
Federer played only seven events this year, and many fewer matches than Williams—just 18 since his semi-final run at the Australian Open. It was after Melbourne that he underwent knee surgery that would eventually take him off the circuit following his semi-final finish at Wimbledon.
He is scheduled to return at the Hopman Cup in Perth in the New Year.
Indian Aces: Feliciano López, Ivan Dodig, Kirsten Flipkens, Mark Philippoussis, Rohan Bopanna, Sania Mirza and Thomas Enqvist
Japan Warriors: Fernando González, Fernando Verdasco, Jean-Julien Rojer, Jelena Jankovic, Kurumi Nara and Marat Safin
OUE Singapore Slammers: Carlos Moyà, Kiki Bertens, Marcelo Melo, Marcos Baghdatis, Nick Kyrgios and Rainer Schuttler
UAE Royals: Ana Ivanovic, Daniel Nestor, Goran Ivanisevic, Martina Hingis, Pablo Cuevas, Tomas Berdych and Thomas Johansson
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas