Mahesh Bhupathi's brainchild, the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL), is back for its second season with one more team and a whole lot of glitz and glamor. The league's first round of matches is set to be held at Kobe, in Japan, from Wednesday.
The WTA Finals, held in Singapore, and the ATP Finals, held in London, gathered a lot of attention in India with Sania Mirza, and later Rohan Bopanna, grabbing the headlines at these prestigious year-enders. Over the years, the WTA and the ATP Finals signaled the end of the long tennis season, but that is not the case anymore.
Tournaments like the IPTL and Champions Tennis League (CTL) are now held after the ATP Finals. Both these tournaments follow similar formats, although that is almost where the similarity ends. Vijay Amritraj's CTL looks to promote grass-root tennis by pairing rookie Indian tennis players with well known stars, while the IPTL is a much more 'international event' - which is also why the IPTL has grabbed bigger sponsors, better media coverage, and more eyeballs.
The second edition of the IPTL is set to kick-off in Japan today with Singapore Slammers taking on defending champions Indian Aces at the Kobe World Hall (13:00 hrs IST).
What happened last year
Last season was a four-team event and the Indian Aces, spearheaded by legends like Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, won the league with eight wins in their 12 games. The team also had the only two Indians playing in the tournament, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna.
The Novak Djokovic led UAE Royals team gave them a good run for their money till the final game of the season, but had to settle for a second place finish.
The biggest disappointment of the tournament was the performance of the Singapore Lions, later called the Singapore Slammers. Despite having stars like Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Patrick Rafter and Tomas Berdych, they finished at the bottom of the table after managing just three wins.
2014 IPTL table
2015 IPTL teams
Defending champions Indian Aces did not retain Roger Federer in this year's draft and instead opted for his nemesis Rafael Nadal. Tennis fans in Delhi will be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of these two legends facing each other when Indian Aces take on UAE Royals when the league moves to New Delhi for three days, starting from December 10, for the third round of league matches.
The Singapore Slammers have the most exciting team on paper. Initially they were led by World No.1 Novak Djokovic, but the team were dealt a huge blow when the 28-year-old decided to withdraw from the tournament, citing a need to recover from the long season. However, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have been roped in as Djokovic's replacement. Apart from the World No.2 and Marcelo Melo, the World No.1 men's doubles player, the team also has two of the most exciting young talents in men and women's circuit respectively – 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios and 18-year-old Belinda Bencic.
Former World No.1 Rafael Nadal will lead the charge for the Indian Aces, along with Sania Mirza, the World No.1 in women's doubles. Nadal struggled through the calender year with injuries and form, but produced some good performances in the ATP Finals, where he defeated the likes of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and David Ferrer to reach the semi-finals. A lot will rest on Sania Mirza, who dominated the doubles circuit with Martina Hingis this year. Rohan Bopanna is also coming into this tournament on the back of a dream run in the ATP Finals with his partner Florin Mergea, as they made it to the final of the year-ending tournament, beating the Bryan brothers enroute to the final.
The only other Indian in this tournament is Leander Paes, who will be a doubles player for the Japan Warriors. The 42-year-old is still going strong and has won three grand slams this year, partnering Martina Hingis.