Federer, Murray, Williams and Sharapova back to prove IPTL is no one-hit wonder
The likes of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Serena Williams will all be in action in the International Premier Tennis League this month
Perhaps last year, the code-breaking, high-octane melting pot of the International Premier Tennis League looked rather like a brilliant flash-in-the-pan when some of the biggest stars in the sport launched it upon four unsuspecting Asian cities.
This brain-child of Mahesh Bhupathi aimed to bring a fast and furious, competitive yet fun version of tennis to the burgeoning tennis markets of the Philippines, Singapore, India and the United Arab Emirates, places where fans craved the stars of the tour but where there were scant tournaments to bring them there.
And to help promote tennis—and have some fun along the way—the big names signed up, the likes of Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, plus big past stars such as Pat Rafter and Pete Sampras.
It proved to be a great success, but would those same stars throw their weight behind it again? Well the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, and this time it has expanded to five locations with the addition of Japan and that nation’s super-hero, Kei Nishikori.
There has been a bit of shuffling between last year’s teams. Federer this year plays for the Obi UAE Royals—and in Delhi and Singapore as well as Dubai—after playing for the Indian Aces last year. Rafael Nadal, who withdrew in 2014 after an appendectomy, slots into the Delhi team, and that sets up the ultimate blockbuster between the two super-stars when their teams converge in India.
And while Djokovic has withdrawn with fatigue, he is replaced by IPTL debutant Stan Wawrinka.
Tennis fever has already arrived in the newest addition to the league, with Maria Sharapova opening proceedings with two wins in Kobe—and Williams picks up tomorrow where she left off.
After such long, demanding seasons, what brings these players to IPTL? Many of the top men, for example, were in action right up to wire at the World Tour Finals in London—Murray even went on to win three back-to-back Davis Cup matches.
Part of the reason is, of course, the enthusiastic welcome of the fans, partly the pleasure of fresh horizons and cultures. But it is also in no small measure down to the format, which is not just fan-friendly but player-friendly, slotting easily into their pre-2016 training blocks.
How, then, does the format keep things lively, lightweight and, above all, easy on the body?
Rules and formats
Each match comprises five sets, with only one set played in each of five formats:
• Men’s singles
• Women’s singles
• Men’s doubles
• Mixed doubles
• Past champion singles
The winner of each set is the first to six games, with a ‘shoot-out’ should they reach 5-5: first to seven points wins the deciding game.
If the teams are tied at the end of the five sets, they play a ‘super shoot-out’, with the first team to win 10 points winning the match—no 2-point difference required.
There is no ad scoring, but there is the shot-clock—a particularly interesting inclusion in the context of debates on the pro tours about how to speed up play.
Here the clock audibly counts down the 20 seconds between service points, the 45 seconds at the change of ends, the 60 seconds for a coaching time-out—one permitted each set—and three minutes between sets.
There is also room for some on-the-hoof strategy with the ‘power point’, which can be called by the receiving player once in each set, with the winner of the rally scoring two points instead of one.
With every game adding a point to the cumulative total of a team in each match, every player needs to win as many games as possible, even if losing the set.
On past experience, even the quickest and most alert players are caught out at some point by the no-let on serve, are panicked by the shot-clock, forget the rules for shoot-outs, player subs and more. And if there’s one thing that generates team involvement and audience excitement, it is the best players producing the goods when under pressure.
With the competition being televised globally, it will soon be clear who handles the pressure the best—while also revealing a little of the personalities behind the tennis.
The teams, in order of home schedules
Legendari Japan Warriors [new team]
At home 2-4 December, Kobe World Hall, Kobe, Japan
Philippine Mavericks [third in 2014]
At home 6-8 December, Mall of Asia Arena, Manila
Micromax Indian Aces [defending champions]
At home 10-12 December, Indiri Gandhi Indoor Stadium, New Delhi
Rafael Nadal—plays Federer on 12th
Obi UAE Royals [second in 2014]
At home 14-16 December, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai
OUE Singapore Slammers [fourth in 2014]
At home 18-20 December, Singapore Indoor Stadium, Singapore