Travel team a critical IPTL factor

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Philippine Tennis Association vice president Randy Villanueva said the other day the composition of the traveling team for each franchise in the coming five-leg International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) season will be a critical factor in determining the outcome of every five-set match broken down into men’s singles, women’s singles, mixed doubles, men’s doubles and men’s legends singles.

The IPTL’s second season begins at the Kobe World Hall in Japan on Dec. 2 with the second leg set at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena on Dec. 6-8. The Philippine Mavericks will vie for the $1 Million first prize with the defending champion Indian Aces, United Arab Emirates Royals, Singapore Slammers and debuting Japan Warriors. The runner-up will settle for $500,000.

Each team is bannered by an icon player. The five icons are the Mavericks’ Serena Williams, the Aces’ Rafael Nadal, the Royals’ Roger Federer, the Slammers’ Novak Djokovic and the Warriors’ Maria Sharapova. The others in a team are a past champion or legend, doubles designate and players in Categories A, B, C and D for men and women and an “uncategorized” class.

For the Philippines, Australia’s Mark Philippoussis is listed as a past champion, Williams an icon, Canada’s Milos Raonic a Category A, France’s Richard Gasquet a Category B, Croatia’s Borna Coric a Category C, Germany’s Sabine Lisicki a Category C, Slovakia’s Jamila Gajdosova a Category D and Fil-Am Treat Huey a doubles player. The Mavericks are the only team with male players in Categories A, B and C. Raonic is ranked world No. 14 by the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), Gasquet No. 9 and Coric No. 44. Coric, 19, is the youngest player in the world top 50.

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Last year, the Mavericks were led by Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova but they didn’t play the full route. Murray saw action in three singles and three mixed doubles sets during the Manila leg. He beat UAE’s Marin Cilic, 6-5, and Singapore’s Nick Kyrgios, 6-5 but lost to India’s Gael Monfils, 6-4. Murray teamed with Sharapova in losing two mixed doubles sets then joined Kirsten Flipkens to win one. He never played for the Mavericks again. Sharapova played on two of the three days in the Manila leg. She split her singles sets but lost twice in mixed doubles. Sharapova skipped the third day of hostilities and missed the rest of the season. In the Manila leg, the Mavericks lost to UAE, 29-24, and India, 24-15 and defeated Singapore, 27-19.

In the IPTL this season, icons are required to play at home and at least once on the road. Nadal, for instance, has chosen to play in Manila aside from the Aces’ base in New Delhi.

“The key is who are the consistent players in the traveling team,” said Villanueva. “Last season, we had Murray and Sharapova but they only played in Manila. This season, Jo Wilfried Tsonga was supposed to play again for the Mavericks but withdrew to concentrate on training to win a Grand Slam next year. But now, we’ve got Serena, Raonic, Gasquet and Coric. We’re definitely more competitive this year.”

Villanueva said under the IPTL rules, the team that wins the most games at the end of the five sets takes the match. “That means if you’re able to win 6-0, it’s a much better score than 6-5 because you’re able to blank your opponent,” he said. “I remember when we played India in Manila last year, Treat and Tsonga beat Rohan Bopanna and Monfils, 6-0. But Bopanna and Sania Mirza took out Murray and Sharapova, 6-1, Murray and Sharapova lost their singles sets and India’s Fabrice Santoro defeated Daniel Nestor in the legends singles, 6-1. So we wound up losing, 24-15.”

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What makes this season different from last year is the playoff for the championship. At the final leg in Singapore on Dec. 18-20, the first two days will finish the elimination schedule then on the third day, the top two placers will battle for the championship. Last season, the team with the most points was declared the champion at the end of the eliminations without a playoff. India took the crown with 39 points. UAE was second with 37, the Mavericks third with 35 and Singapore fourth with 24. A team earned four points for winning a match. The loser of a match gained two points if it won at least 20 games. The loser picked up one point if it won at least 10 games. In the Mavericks’ case, they won six matches and lost six and got five points for losing with at least 20 games won and one point for losing with at least 10 games won.

Villanueva said this season, the Aces remain a serious title contender despite losing Roger Federer and Pete Sampras. India is back to defend the crown with icon Nadal, legend Santoro, Bopanna a doubles player, Monfils a Category B, Ivan Dodig a Category D, Agnieszka Radwanska a Category A and Mirza a Category D.

In the Manila leg, the first day will pit Japan against Singapore and UAE against the Philippines. On the second day, it will be India against UAE and Japan against the Philippines. Singapore faces UAE and the Philippines takes on India on the third day. Confirmed to play in the Manila leg are 30 stars, including world No. 5 Nadal, world No. 1 Williams, world No. 6 Tomas Berdych with UAE and world No. 30 Kyrgios with Singapore.

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