Tennis fans in the Emirates should have the date December 15 marked on their calendars as the owners of the UAE Royals team have promised a Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic showdown, that will be the main highlight of the Dubai leg of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL).
The IPTL returns to the UAE for its second season hoping to attract bigger crowds and match the success witnessed in other cities like Manila and New Delhi last year.
The UAE Royals have gone all out to ensure the league takes the city by storm this December (from 14-16) as they enlisted Federer to lead the squad – bringing him in from the Indian Aces – and they managed to get Indian Test cricket captain Virat Kohli to invest in the team and serve as a co-owner alongside local businesses musafir.com and Emax.
Add to that Ravi Shastri, ex-cricketer and the Indian team director, acting as a special advisor to the team and the fact that the competition will be hosted at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium at the Aviation Club, rather than the remote Hamdan Sports Complex like last year, and you get the sense the UAE Royals really mean business in the league’s second year.
Federer will be joined by Tomas Berdych, Ana Ivanovic, Kristina Mladenovic, Goran Ivanisevic and Daniel Nestor in the Royals line-up and the owners revealed the Swiss world No2 has committed to play for them for two years.
Kohli admits Federer was the main reason he decided to get involved with the UAE Royals and he believes the 34-year-old legend will be the key to the team winning the league this year, after finishing as runners-up in the inaugural season.
“The association is a pleasure for me because this year we have “the man” in our team, and I think the whole world looks up to him, Mr. Roger Federer,” Kohli said at the team unveiling in Dubai.
“He is probably the main reason why this association happened and we have him for two years. I couldn’t miss this opportunity to interact with him so closely.”
IPTL founder and managing director, Mahesh Bhupathi, a four-time doubles grand slam champion, explained how the main goal was to have a bigger and better league this season.
What started as a four-team round robin competition played at four different Asian cities – Manila, Singapore, New Delhi and Dubai – has become a five-stop event with Japan added to the mix this year.
The Japan Warriors will be led by Asian No1 Kei Nishikori and Russian superstar Maria Sharapova, with former world No1 Marat Safin taking part for the first time.
Rafael Nadal, who was unable to take part last year due to his bout of appendicitis, will headlines the Indian Aces team, with Djokovic moving from the Royals to the Singapore Slammers. A notable absentee from this year’s roster is Andy Murray, who was part of the Manila Mavericks last year.
The IPTL will start in Japan on December 2 before going to Philippines, India, UAE and concluding in Singapore on December 20. A new adjustment in the format has been introduced this year with a final scheduled to take place in the last stop in Singapore, between the top two sides in the standings.
“Adding Japan was a big plus for us. It was huge in Manila, the response was amazing. India was outstanding with Roger and Novak there. Taking it to the cities that don’t see tennis is a big bonus. This year we’re playing in Kobe, they have never seen Nishikori play there because he only plays in Tokyo for Davis Cup and the Japan Open so they’re expecting an explosion,” Bhupathi told Sport360.
For the UAE Royals owners, having a presence in all five markets where the league will stop by is invaluable and with Federer and Kohli on board, they’re confident in the team’s success.
“Last year we had signed up the team for a duration of 10 years. It was the inaugural season and we were looking at how it was going to be. Fortunately the players loved the format and so did the crowd. We saw a lot of serious tennis along with entertainment blended in,” said Sachin Gadoya, managing director musafir.com.
Neelesh Bhatnagar, CEO of Emax, added: “Dubai is like Roger Federer’s second home. The people in the UAE love him so much. In year one, we didn’t have him but we tried this year to make sure he was part of the UAE Royals.”
Organisers say an exhibition match between Kohli and Federer could be in the cards at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.