Roger, the drawing card

Dancing with Aces…Roger Federer shakes a leg with his team-mates during the Indian Premier Tennis League in New Delhi. The Swiss worked his magic to woo the fans.-PTI

The unique selling point of the IPTL was the climax that featured Roger Federer versus the World No. 1, Novak Djokovic. The contest between the two was of a high quality, even though they played only one set, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was a tennis fever of the highest degree ever experienced in the country. The International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) brought in a galaxy of stars, but the one man responsible for sending the fans into a frenzy and inspiring many of them to travel thousands of kilometres from across the country to New Delhi was Roger Federer. The man who holds a record 17 Grand Slam titles apart from the Olympic gold, and is regarded by many as the greatest player of all time.

Forget Federer’s achievements as a player, the Swiss master oozed so much charm and played with such grace on the fast indoor carpet that he added many more to his fan club.

The unique selling point of the IPTL was the climax that featured Federer (Indian Aces) against the World No. 1, Novak Djokovic (UAE Royals). The face-off between the two in the World Tour Final in London failed to come off, as Federer was injured. However, in Delhi, the contest between Federer and Djokovic was of a high quality, even though they played only one set. Federer won the set via the tiebreaker, but Djokovic won the extended entertainment to help UAE Royals beat Indian Aces.

“It was great to be in India. It was a unique and valuable experience. The people, the kindness, the hospitality strikes me. I hope the League continues and I really look forward to coming back next year. The format is fun and fast,” Djokovic said.

“The match with Novak was great. I think we both played a good game at a great level. I think what makes the difference is the team support on court, the excitement in the crowd and the fans. I am very happy that I have been able to participate in this new format of tennis this year,” Federer observed.

A CONGREGATION OF STARS. Bollywood actors Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Riteish Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone, Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar and Sania Mirza with Roger Federer.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The IPTL was not just about Federer and Djokovic. There was also Pete Sampras, winner of 14 Grand Slam titles who retired at his peak after winning the U.S. Open. There was an attempt to pair Federer with Sampras (they have a mutual admiration for each other) in a doubles match, but Sampras withdrew after playing a few games in the singles against Goran Ivanisevic.

There were many other former World No. 1 players too — stars such as Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt. There was also a crop of current players such as Marin Cilic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych, and doubles experts like Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic.

The player who once had the biggest serve in the game, Mark Philippoussis of Australia was also on show.

Among the women, stars such as Ana Ivanovic, a former World No. 1 who has revived her career to reach No. 5, Caroline Wozniacki, also a former World No. 1, Daniela Hantuchova, Kristina Mladenovic and Kirsten Flipkens were on view.

CLOWN PRINCE. Novak Djokovic horses around much to the amusement of the spectators. "It was great to be in India. It was a unique and valuable experience," says the Serb.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

India’s Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna, both playing for Indian Aces, added to the mix.

Mahesh Bhupathi, who had visualised and planned the novel League for over two years, tried to rope in other leading Indian players like Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman, but they were not able to find time.

It was a special arrangement for the Indian leg, as Federer did not play in the other stops of the IPTL in Manila, Singapore and Dubai. Though stars such as Andre Agassi, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova did not visit Delhi, Mahesh had planned things nicely. Everyone who had committed to play did play eventually, disproving the general belief that the League was far too ambitious to materialise. It was indeed a miracle that everyone played in the off-season.

Playing tennis indoors, with novel rules and adhering to strict time schedules worked well for both the players and fans. It was interesting to see Federer coming on as a substitute for Bopanna to play the mixed doubles with Sania against UAE Royals. For the record, Federer had made a successful entry for Indian Aces against Singapore Slammers on the second day by winning the mixed doubles with Sania, doubles with Bopanna and the singles against Tomas Berdych.

Though the tickets were sold as a package for all three days, costing between Rs. 3000 to Rs. 50,000, the fans filled the arena, with an estimated capacity of 15,000, to about 80 per cent. There were additional seats all around the court at the ground level that catered to the corporate sector and the VIPs, including some of the biggest names in Bollywood like Amitabh Bachchan.

Mahesh’s wife, film star Lara Dutta, played her role to perfection by assembling Bollywood stars such as Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone and Riteish Deshmukh for an exhibition match with Federer, Djokovic and Sania before the last tie of the three-day Indian leg. The show floored the fans.

There was no dearth of entertainment, even though the arena did not live up to the challenge in terms of food and, more importantly, adequate hygienic toilets. Yet, for a first time venture of such magnitude, the IPTL was a colossal success.

The players and the fans went back happy with a resolve to return the next time.