Chilly reaction to much-hyped Champions Tennis League

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 18, 2014 11:19 IST

The Delhi winters are setting in. It's slightly nippy as the temperature drops and that creates the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a sport outdoors.

Going by that logic, the stands at the tennis stadium in Delhi should have been teeming for the inaugural tie of the Champions Tennis League (CTL). Especially, when tickets were handed out and weren't really sold. However, that was not to be.

Perhaps the organisers have been just too busy putting the league together and haven't focussed on getting the crowds in. Perhaps tennis as a sport, even with big names, does not get that kind of appreciation in this part of the country.

As to whether the league is a success or not remains to be seen. But as for the format, it did make for interesting viewing. At the same time the relaxed nature of the event had players smiling and joking around while cheering their team member out on court.

"Paes will win" or "Go Jelena" could be heard even from the sparse crowd. At the end of the opening tie between Delhi Dreams and Punjab Marshalls, who won really didn't matter. It was mainly about enjoying tennis.

The first of the two tennis leagues to be played in India this year, CTL is focussed on six Indian cities.

With this tournament starting the day after the professional circuit ended, it's a bit strange as players have often criticised a full calendar and here they were going on beyond it! But for those playing in this league, it's not a bad way, apparently, to start their off-season training.

"With this format, every point counts. So we are using this to sharpen our match practice for the next season," said world No 15 Jelena Jankovic.

Of course, given the money these players are getting, it would be strange if they said that the outing would diminish their prowess for the next season.

The Serbian former world No. 1's team, the Delhi Dreams, beat Punjab Marshalls 25-19. Basically that's the number of games. The league has a format that works on the basis of cumulative games won by a team.

Eternal favourite

Former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, Jankovic, world No. 16 Kevin Anderson and India's Sanam Singh represent the Delhi team, but the fans reserved the loudest cheer for Leander Paes.

After world No. 10 David Ferrer pulled out of CTL citing an injury, the 14-time Grand Slam champion filled in the empty spot in the Punjab team. The Ferrer pull-out on account of injury did seem to be a bit of a farce as he quickly turned up as reserve for the Tour finals in London right after the announcement.

But as far as Indian fans go, when they have Paes out there, they really don't seem to want anybody else."For me it's all about forging great friendships," emphasised Paes on the tournament.

Chants of "Paes, Paes" filled the stadium as players took to the court. With the format calling for five matches - the opening tie began with the legends singles where Punjab's Greg Rusedsksi took on Ferrero.

Though Ferrero won 6-1, the camaraderie between the two was unmistakable. Was it the arrival just a few hours before the 5pm start that hampered Rusedski's play? "No no", mocked Ferrero at the post-match presser drawing laughter all around. "Maybe I realised I don't move as fast as I used to!" smiled Rusedski. He certainly doesn't. It was painful watching the man play and one hopes it was just a reflection of jet lag.

Paes and Garbine Muguruza then made short work of Jankovic and Anderson to win 6-3. But the turning point came during the third match - the women's singles. Muguruza was a break up before Jankovic toiled to defeat the 21-year-old Spaniard 6-5 (5-3) in the tiebreak.

Paes then again came on court, drawing the loudest cheers, of course, with Somdev Devvarman to beat Sanam Singh and Anderson 6-4.

Going into the final match, there was just a one-point difference between the teams. But the big-serving South African showed the crowd why he's among the top-20 in the world. Anderson dispatched Devvarman 6-1 for Delhi to win with a six-point margin.

Tricky format

The format takes some time getting used to. Even Jankovic was stumped after winning a point and then not realising the game was over.

As once-rivals-and-now-friends Rusedksi and Ferrero laughed together sharing a joke, it seemed everyone was at the venue to enjoy. It would be great if more crowds turn up and echo that sentiment.

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