Indian Aces clinch prestigious IPTL title as UAE Royals go down fighting

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Making the difference: Tomas Berdych's win over Novak Djokovic punctured UAE Royals' ambitions of challenging for a first IPTL crown.

The Micromax Indian Aces captured the inaugural Coca Cola IPTL title after the Singapore Slammers dashed the hopes of the UAE Royals on Friday night at the Hamdan Sports Complex in Dubai.

It was Tomas Berdych who sealed the fate of the home side when he pulled off a sensational upset win over Royals’ No1 Novak Djokovic in a tense shootout (played when a set reaches at 5-5) that ended 8-7 in the Czech’s favour, and handed the Slammers a 23-21 overall victory.

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Djokovic had served for the final set at 5-3 but was bizarrely broken back.

The last point of the match saw Berdych’s serve clip the net before landing on the other side (which is allowed in IPTL rules) and despite Djokovic’s quick reaction, his return wasn’t good enough and his opponent’s response killed the UAE’s chances of fighting for the title against the Aces on Saturday.

"I feel empty to be honest. We didn’t expect to lose to them. We expected to have another match tomorrow and have a chance," said a dejected Goran Ivanisevic, who had won his Past Champions set against Pat Rafter.

"The first set started badly for us, unexpected. Novak unexpected, 5-3 serving… and the rest you saw. It’s pretty disappointing.

"But this year the Aces deserve it. They played better, they were converting better break points, Power Points, all the points. Next year it’s going to be better."

The Slammers are bottom of the league standings with the least number of victories and entered the contest as underdogs against the Royals who were in second place and were looking to keep their hopes of winning the title alive after the Aces had beaten the Manila Mavericks in the earlier match.

The Royals’ Caroline Wozniacki had a disappointing start, falling behind 0-4 early on as Daniela Hantuchova punished her with some deep groundstrokes.

It drove the Royals to substitute the ex-world No1 with 67th-ranked Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, who got the home team on the board right away, holding serve for 1-4.

But Hantuchova was unfazed as she confidently gave the Slammers a 6-1 lead.

The following set gifted the crowd a rematch of the 2001 Wimbledon final as Pat Rafter took on the Royals’ Ivanisevic.

Both legends dazzled with volleys one rarely witnesses on tour these days but it was Ivanisevic who had the better start, opening up a 4-0 gap over the Australian former world No1. The Croat took the set 6-1 on a Rafter double-fault to see the Royals draw level, 7-7, with the Slammers.

The Royals took the mixed doubles set to take a two-game lead but the Slammers closed that gap when Aussie pair Nick Kyrgios and Lleyton Hewitt broke for 5-3 in the men’s doubles set soon after.

The Slammers sealed it 6-3 and nudged ahead 17-16.

It was left for Djokovic to try and save the home side when he took on Singapore’s Berdych in the final set.

Berdych opened up a 4-1 lead thanks to a Happiness Power Point but Djokovic struck back and led 5-4 with two minutes to go on the clock. Locked a 7-7 with a few seconds remaining, Berdych redeemed himself and secured the win.

"We were definitely not expecting that today would be this tight. It was a tough tough day. Disappointing to finish it like this," said Marin Cilic, echoing the thoughts of his team-mate Ivanisevic, who is the coach that guided him to the US Open title last September.

"It’s a real pleasure to watch Goran. He played amazing. It wasn’t easy to play that many matches in a row. He was playing day after day, playing at a high level. I think the legends showed that they’re still playing amazing tennis and some of them could play for sure on the tour."

The first contest of the day saw the Aces easily beat the Mavericks 28-23. Sania Mirza of the Indian Aces attributed her team’s success to the fact that they are a tight-knit group and that they had bonded through their travels together to all four city stops of the league.

“I think five of us, we started the competition two and half weeks ago and we’re ending the competition and we’ve been together for two and a half weeks and I feel that we’re really comfortable with each other and we’ve become really good friends,” said Mirza.

The IPTL will conclude on Saturday with the Mavericks facing the Slammers and the Royals taking on the Aces.

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