The banners were out, the RF shirts and caps could be found in plenty, screaming fans all shouting in unison - Roger, Roger, Roger. There could be no doubt about it. Everyone was at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi on Sunday for one man and one man only.
As the 17-time Grand Slam champion was introduced to the crowd at the beginning of the tie, screams drowned even the loud music. Many found it hard to believe but, yes, it was indeed Roger Federer who walked out.
A young fan could barely contain her excitement as she whipped out her phone. “I have to take a Federer-selfie,” she shouts. Her friends follow suit.
Sania Mirza and Roger Federer share a light moment while playing for Indian Aces in their International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) mixed doubles match in Delhi. (Mohd Zakir/HT Photo)
In September, when the organisers announced that the Swiss master had agreed to replace Rafael Nadal in the league, fans could hardly believe it. Social media was abuzz as to how one could get his hands on tickets. How often do you get a chance to see the world No 2 at home? But there had been a lot of ambiguity about his participation. When he didn’t turn up for the Indian Aces matches in Manila and Singapore, the first two legs of the IPTL, many wondered if Federer would show up in India.
“I agreed to play here (IPTL) quite recently but I was clear about how many days I would be able to give to it. Training is important, as is vacation and spending time with my family… After talking with Mahesh (Bhupathi)… these few days (the December 6-8 India leg) fit perfectly,” clarified Federer, after winning all his three matches against the Singapore Slammers.
He first paired up with Sania Mirza in probably his fourth mixed doubles match ever. “I’ve earlier played with Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis and my wife (Mirka),” claimed the 33-year-old. He then teamed up with Rohan Bopanna for the doubles before downing old foe Tomas Berdych in the singles. “I’m tired now,” he joked drawing laughter all around.
The Swiss great termed the newly created IPTL an "exhibition", stating that he preferred the game was played on the professional tour.
While all players have been happy to call the IPTL a fun but very tough competition, the recent Davis Cup champion was clear to dismiss the notion. “The format is interesting. It’s fun and somewhat competitive... it definitely has a place on the tour but it will not replace the tour,” Federer said.Does the league help in off-season preparations as many of the participating stars have claimed it does? "It helps in overall match play in the off season. One can try new things, it gives ideas. But when you actually try the ideas in practice, that is motivational inspiration from the exhibition tour," he explained.
Video: Playing in India is a cool moment in my career, says Federer
Federer lukewarm on IPTL rules
Federer, however, gave a lukewarm response to the IPTL rules after making his debut.
"My mind was definitely scrambling trying to remember all the rules," a smiling Federer told reporters.
With its emphasis on speed, fun and noise, an IPTL tie comprises five one-set shootouts in men's and women's singles, men's and mixed doubles and a past champions match with the team that wins the most games, not sets, declared the winner.
Additional features include a 20-second serve clock, a 'Happiness Power Point' in which a point is worth double once per set, no advantages, no lets, coaching timeouts and a five-minute shootout if a match is tied at 5-5.
In fun mode
A laughing and joking Federer downed Czech world number seven Tomas Berdych in the new team competition's third leg.
The normally composed and focused Federer was clearly enjoying himself during his three matches in front of Indian fans including Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan and cricketing great Sunil Gavaskar.
After winning his doubles and mixed doubles matches with Indian teammates Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna, Federer celebrated with a courtside dance, before teammate France's Gael Monfils joined in.
(With Agency inputs)