Players turn on the heat as Dubai soak in IPTL rules and action

With the evening’s elder statesmen, Goran Ivanisevic and Mark Philippoussis, fighting ferociously on court, Ivanisevic’s UAE Royals teammates looked to lighten the mood off it.
Goran Ivanisevic lost his game to Manila Mavericks’ Mark Philippoussis but his UAE Royals teammates emerged victorious in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National
Goran Ivanisevic lost his game to Manila Mavericks’ Mark Philippoussis but his UAE Royals teammates emerged victorious in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

Twenty minutes before Dubai hosted its first match of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) last night, the lights went out at the Hamdan Sports Complex and the music ramped up.

It was an attempt to generate the fun, entertaining atmosphere that IPTL organisers had promised over the past few days.

Yet, even with the venue suddenly resembling London’s O2 Arena more than the swimming complex it had been three days earlier, the attempt failed.

When Rihanna asked what her name was over the sound system, there were less than 200 people there to provide an answer. When Eminem rapped Lose Yourself, you had to wonder whether the 6,000 ticket-holders that IPTL officials said were coming had indeed got lost on the way to this remote, but resplendent, venue.

When the lights came up and the action got underway, it quickly became clear that the reason for the empty seats was not for lack of entertainment, which was plentiful, nor lack of quality, which was high.

Starting at 4pm on a school day, however, and without any school trips having been scheduled, the crowd was always going to be sparse.

Ana Ivanovic, the former world No 1 and winner of the 2008 Australian Open, played some fine tennis en route to beating Daniela Hantuchova in the opening set of the evening, before her Indian Aces teammate Fabrice Santoro rolled back the years to comfortably dispatch fellow veteran Pat Rafter.

Midway through Santoro’s set, having successfully sent a booming forehand down the line, the Frenchman grinned as his entire team jumped from the bench in celebration.

Pete Sampras, who was not scheduled to play but turned up to show support to his teammates, looked particularly pleased.

The American’s rivalry with Rafter from the late 1990s is perhaps merely dormant rather than dead. We could find out tomorrow when the two are expected to meet.

As was widely anticipated, the Indian Aces – who lead the standings – comfortably beat bottom-placed Singapore Slammers 28-24. With the second match scheduled to start at 7.30pm and featuring Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, the crowd slowly grew without coming close to reaching 50 per cent of the venue’s 8,000-seat capacity.

“My son told me he was coming and invited me to join,” said Nasser Syed, an Indian sales manager who has lived in the UAE for 43 years and arrived for the first match.

“I like the tennis and the format, although it is a little confusing. It’s fun, though, and exciting. It’s a pity there are so many empty seats, but it’s because people have been working.

“I’m sure the next two days will be better.”

With the evening’s elder statesmen, Goran Ivanisevic and Mark Philippoussis, fighting ferociously on court, Ivanisevic’s UAE Royals teammates looked to lighten the mood off it. Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki helped set a playful mood by dropping some shapes on the sidelines as the music kicked in between games.

“As a team we get our energy from the bench and keep each other charged up,” Ivanovic said after her victory.

And it was obvious. When Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faced Djokovic shortly after, his Manila Mavericks teammates hollered at his every stroke and the big Frenchman looked hungrier, overcoming the seven-time grand slam winner 6-5 after the bamboozling five-minute shoot-out.

The shoot-out is in place of a tie-break, but without an explanation, there were several confused faces.

It was a similar story with what organisers billed as “happiness power points” (a point that can be selected by the receiver to count for double) and super shoot-outs (a seven-minute play-off that is used to decide a tied match).

Abdullah Saif, an Abu Dhabi resident, said he had studied the rules before attending, but believes that a quick overview of some of the format’s more complex rules would have been useful.

“Even just 30 seconds or a minute to explain some things like the power points or shoot-outs would have been good,” he said.

“I love tennis and it’s not every day you get the chance to see sporting royalty, so I’ll come back. It’s fun, but I prefer the traditional rules.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 12, 2014 04:00 AM

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