The first match was slotted to start at 4pm. It did but the 15000-plus seating capacity at NEW DELHIwas nowhere close to being full. The rules can be confusing for a first-timer — the happiness power point, the no-advantage rule, the serve clock, the five-minute shootout — but by the time the UAE Royals defeated the Singapore Slammers (29-16) on the first day of the India leg of the IPTL, the fans were out in numbers.
There were glitches of course. The gates opened at 2pm but due to lack of parking facility, the fans trudged a long way to the stadium. The toilets were not functional when the gates opened. There was talk of tickets being sold out. On Saturday, the South blocks filled up fast but the North blocks found less takers. All said, the excitement was real. By the time the match between the Indian Aces and Manila Mavericks began, it was Sania Mirza’s appearance that had fans clapping.
Despite the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Marin Cilic and Lleyton Hewitt showing off their skills, the loudest cheer was reserved for Goran Ivanisevic. The Croatian, who won the Wimbledon as a wildcard in 2001, is representing the UAE Royals. Playing against Pat Rafter from the Singapore team in the legends singles, it was a dream 2001 Wimbledon final re-match.
At 43, Goran showed in his 6-1 demolition of his old foe that he still has the game to send some of today’s stars packing.
After the Manila and Singapore legs, the players love the camaraderie. Players talk of the relationships forged and getting match practice for the new season. But when the tennis calendar is so cramped, how does IPTL affect pre-season training? “Had Marin been in Zagreb now, he would be busy with his fitness training. Playing here takes care of his fitness. It makes my job easier,” laughed Goran.