New Delhi: Indian tennis courts are set to be dazzled like never before when global icons like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic touch down to enthrall “full house” crowds during the third leg of the inaugural International Premier Tennis League from Saturday.
Besides being a mouthwatering treat for the “fortunate” fans to see the legends in action, the heavy duty line-up in New Delhi has the potential to give a big push to the IPTL, which already has announced its plans to add two more cities to the existing four in 2015.
“There is a lot of buzz around the fact that the likes of Roger, Novak and Sampras will be playing in Delhi. They too are very excited about coming to India. Manila was amazing, Singapore was good too, now I hope the fans welcome players with open arms,” IPTL founder Mahesh Bhupathi told media last night after the conclusion of the Singapore leg.
The former India player is confidently hoping the third leg will surpass the popularity of Manila and Singapore.
“I do have high hopes. How successful it is we have to wait and watch. I just hope Indian fans take it to next level,” said Bhupathi, confirming that Federer will only be available for the India leg of IPTL and won’t be travelling to Dubai for the fourth and final round from December 11-13.
Federer, who first visited India in 2006 for a UNICEF program, has already shown enough excitement for his tennis debut in a country where he enjoys a huge following.
The Swiss great may not play on all three days of the competition or not get enough time to explore India but he found an interesting way to engage with his legion of fans.
The record 17-time Grand Slam champion took to Twitter, asking his followers to photoshop him around India and in return he was “entertained” with some “hilarious” suggestions.
One follower posted a morphed image of Federer enjoying an autorickshaw ride in the capital.
“It won’t be my first time in India, but it’ll be my first time to play tennis, and that moment you walk onto the court or into the stadium – that’s why I play tennis,” said Federer.
“I’m going to India for that feeling – playing tennis, showing what I can do, bringing over my personality, sharing the fun and all that with the people, and how are the people going to react. And obviously I’m going to meet a ton of people, get a sense for how it is locally there. It’s going to be crazy, but I’m prepared for that,” he was quoted as saying by CNN recently.
Amid the frenzy around the arrival of Federer, Sampras and Djokovic, it is easy to miss the fact that many more multiple major winners, both past and present, will also take to the court.
To name a few – Jo Wilfried Tsonga, Lleyton Hewitt, Patrick Rafter, Tomas Berdych, Carlos Moya, Ana Ivanovic – will all be in India. Not to forget the two local players in the competition, Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna, who will be playing for Indian Aces alongside none other than Federer and Sampras.
A dampener would be the absence of Andre Agassi, ruling out the prospect of an Agassi-Sampras showdown to go with the much awaited Federer-Djokovic face-off.
Agassi’s IPTL cameo came while playing for Singapore Slammers earlier in the week. While he was embarrassed at being left out of the playing team on the final day, he expected a long future for the tournament.
Some players, including Agassi and Maria Sharapova have been a touch critical about the breakaway format even as the fans are warming up to it nicely.
It is a time-based innovative format with a match consisting of five sets each featuring men’s singles, men’s doubles, mixed doubles, men’s doubles and men’s legends singles.
Each set is played to six games with a five-minute shoot-out at 5-5 besides doing away with the otherwise standard ad-scoring.
The most talked innovation is the ‘Shot Clock’, aimed at restricting a point to 20 seconds.
“It is a time sensitive format. It is what it is. I think what we have is perfect, you have got to follow the rules of the game,” summed up Bhupathi when asked whether he would open to rule changes in the future.