Lhuillier pins hopes on big win over Japan

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – For Philippine Mavericks co-owner and team manager Jean Henri Lhuillier, the key to making it to the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) final lies in maximizing games won and minimizing games lost against Japan today and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) tomorrow in Singapore.

Lhuillier will sit on the Mavericks bench in the team’s last two ties. The Philippines got a break in the India match in Dubai last Tuesday when the Aces’ legend Fabrice Santoro called in sick and couldn’t bring in a replacement. India’s doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna, 35, played in Santoro’s place but his 6-0 win over the Mavericks’ James Blake was reversed. Bopanna wasn’t cleared by the IPTL to play as a legend since he’s still active in the pro circuit. The reversal turned what would’ve been a 30-17 win for India into a 24-23 squeaker.

At the moment, the Mavericks are in fourth place in the five-team standings with 214 games won and 221 lost for a winning rate of 49.2 percent. India remains on top with 257 games won and 209 lost for 55.2 percent while Singapore, buoyed by the arrival of icon Andy Murray, is second with 228 games won and 207 lost for 52.4 percent. UAE is third with 214 games won and 217 lost for 49.7 percent. In last place is Japan, the newest franchise, with 211 games won and 259 lost for 44.9 percent.

Assuming the Philippines sweeps the Warriors and Royals without dropping a single game, the Mavericks will end up with 274 games won and 221 lost for 55.3 percent.  Singapore has two matches left like the Philippines as the Slammers face UAE today and India tomorrow. The Mavericks’ hopes will also depend on how the Slammers fare against the Royals and Aces. From all indications, India is a cinch for one of two final berths with one tie remaining against Singapore. Spanish icon Rafael Nadal won’t return for the Aces in the last leg and Santoro is a doubtful participant but India may have enough cushion to advance to the final. Santoro may be available for the final on Sunday or the Aces could bring in a legend replacement.

Singapore has won its last four matches against the Philippines, Japan, UAE and India in that order to boost the Slammers’ chances to booking a final ticket. Murray’s arrival made a huge impact in Dubai. In the 27-16 win over India last Wednesday, Murray teamed with Marcelo Melo to thwart Ivan Dodig and Bernard Tomic, 6-4. And in the 27-24 decision over UAE the day before, Murray beat Roger Federer, 6-4, and combined with Melo to edge Federer and Marin Cilic, 6-5. World No. 4 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland will take over from Murray for Singapore in the Slammers’ last two matches.

For the Mavericks, the goal is to swamp the Warriors and Royals. World No. 8 Kei Nishikori and World No. 4 Maria Sharapova have played only one tie for Japan and that was in Kobe. Without the two stars, the Warriors have relied on Philip Kohlschrieber, Pierre Hugues Herbert, Leander Paes, Thomas Enqvist, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and newly-signed Kirsten Flipkens to stay alive. Federer played only against Singapore and sat out the tie against Japan in Dubai. It’s not certain if Federer will play in Singapore.

Slammers’ star Nick Kyrgios said Singapore’s mindset is to stay in second place. “Stan (Wawrinka) is going to be the main guy for our team in Singapore,” he said. “Stan’s a terrific player and we are going to do everything to put a solid performance together. I think it’s not so much catching the Aces anymore, it’s more solidifying our position into a strong second place to get to the final.”

Lhuillier said the tie against Japan could determine the Mavericks’ fate. “Our first match is key against the Warriors,” he said. “We need all of the players to have big games. We need to start hot from the first game to gain confidence and momentum.”

Lhuillier said legend and playing coach Mark Philippoussis may be reactivated to see action against Japan. Philippoussis played for the Philippines in the first three legs but sat out the Dubai matches with knee issues. Lhuillier brought in Blake as Philippoussis’ replacement.


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