Was it magic that I saw?
Or was that Federer playing the lob?
Yet another day would have passed monotonously had it not been for the International Premier Tennis League. A chance encounter with the rather expensive tickets (courtesy a dear friend) made sure I witnessed the mother of clashes at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium.
A makeshift tennis court with the capacity of over 15000 people was far from full. Yes, the response did seem lukewarm. It felt rather odd that the masses weren’t interested in viewing the greats from the past and present intertwine skill with awe. Nonetheless it was a clear opportunity to grab the seats four times the price of my ticket.
The atmosphere was settling in. Friends and comrades were fidgeting. And suddenly out of nowhere there was a loud applause. Daniel Nestor and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took the centre stage. They were just practising. Towards the left Tomas Berdych was warming up with his coach. If you have ever experienced those goose bumps when reality strikes down, this was definitely one of them.
Manila Mavericks were aggressive from the start. Tsonga set the tone with a 6-2 defeat of Tomas Berdych, later substituted by Nick Kyrgios. The Slammers never really gained momentum and lost the match 23-17.
The first game ended at quarter to seven. The turnout was improving by the minute and the chances of sneaking onto even more expensive seats were slim. The DJ tried to turn on the heat announcing the arrival of Bollywood stars in a few moments. But today wasn’t the day we’d cheer for them. The inevitable was getting nearer.
Sunil Gavaskar, Ritesh Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone, Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan hogged the limelight. But the applause that followed the welcoming of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Sania Mirza was simply outstanding. Aamir Khan played a doubles game with Federer against the Mirza-Djoko duo. Funny and entertaining as it may seem to see Sunil Gavaskar and Akshay Kumar trying a backhand, but somewhere deep in our hearts we were all yearning for the real game to start.
Kristina Mladenovic playing in place of Caroline Wozniacki for the UAE Royals, edged in-form Ana Ivanovic 6-5. Coming out in the middle were legends Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic, renewing their famous rivalry in the past champions’ singles. With age and form not in favour of Sampras, he lost the set 6-3. It was a disappointing loss for the Indian Aces as Sampras was ruled out of the men’s doubles clash as well.
Federer took the court with Sania Mirza and then later with French great Monfils. Federer indeed seemed poetry. The forehands, the backhands, the aces. And the vollies. Simply gorgeous!
The men’s singles showdown finally arrived. It could have been a mere exhibition match with the fun and entertainment in the bay. But it wasn’t to be. Not for these great gentlemen. Federer and Djokovic appeared as intense as they usually are in a grand slam final. The crowd was definitely losing it with every shot and the chair umpire tried to calm them down. Djokovic though wasn’t happy with the umpire’s effort.
Federer in the prime of his form displayed surreal beauty. Djoko was up to the challenge. In no time were they equally poised at 3-3 with Federer winning the fourth game from a point of no return. The Swiss great made it 5-4 with another solid hold. He fired four aces to Djokovic’s none. The set had to go to the wire and it did. With the scores locked at 5-5, it was time for the five-minute shoot-out. Djokovic came up with a breathtaking backhand cross court winner on the way to take a 3-2 lead before missing an easy overhead for 3-3.
With two minutes left on the clock it was anyone’s set. Federer eventually won the shoot-out but thanks to one of the many rules IPTL follow, the Serbian had the last laugh winning the last game they played, sealing the game for the UAE Royals.
Something rather odd and interesting was happening in the stands. A fellow couple, disillusioned with their lives seemed really agonised about Rafael Nadal missing the extravaganza. So much so, that they began booing Federer. Federer fanatics weren’t far behind. Agitated they reached down to the couple heaving abuses at every point that Federer won. Fortunately, the couple left the stadium unharmed. Indian sports fanatics, to say the least can be a difficult customer to deal with. Pretty much sums up the theory behind Sharapova missing the Indian leg.
A round of handshakes between both the teams followed. The Indian date with international tennis stars came to an end with Sania Mirza and Anna Ivanovic leading the farewell dance to Indiawalleh. Seeing Roger Federer shake a leg was indeed the best thing that could have ever happened this year!
Image courtesy: www.sports.ndtv.com