The inaugural season of the IPTL exhibition league is in the books, with the Micromax Indian Aces winning the title.
As you can see by the official photo of the official trophy (and the official trophy maker’s website promo on the bottom), they weren’t fooling around.
The Open Court take on this was to keep an open mind, respectful of all the hard work (and money) that went into making it happen. Far be it for us to discourage entrepreneurship, especially when it comes to tennis.
It was an ambitious project, one that began with six potential franchises, more than a few questions about whether the cheques would clear, and more than a few about how the fans would embrace it.
With that in mind, here is some of the good, the bad and the indifferent about the maiden IPTL season.
Tennis’s white knight came to the rescue, after Rafael Nadal – the biggest name the IPTL managed to sign over the summer and fall – pulled out (mercifully well ahead of time).
The Micromax Aces probably had to open the vault. But in the end, his arrival gave the league a much-needed spark in its second half. And, if we’re honest (sorry, Nadal fans), he’s a better choice for the team format.
It is, after all, an exhibition, and Federer is better able to drop the intensity down a couple of notches and get into the spirit of the thing. Nadal is so intense, even in exhibitions, and a little shy, too. Just a completely different (but no less impressive) person.
It’s hard to imagine Nadal doing this (although never say never):
Or this (although we’d LOOOOOOOOOVE to see it):
There is probably a merchandise opportunity to be had here (indeed, you can buy IPTL gear online; the price is right, and it’s already on sale).
But there was a serious designer fail going on.
It’s more than a little ironic that the fugliest tracksuits won the title, and the best of the lot finished last (or, as the official website says, ‘FINISHED FOURTH!!!!”)
We call the champs, the Micromax Indian Aces, Team Gatorade, for obvious reasons. There’s just no reason to use orange in any colour scheme.
Next up were the UAE Royals. We dubbed them “Team Mountain Dew”.
Another colour not found in nature although, unlike the Fed, Djokovic had his kit sponsor, Uniqlo, come up with a tracksuit that more or less matched up with the rest of his teammates.
That’s a team player, right there.
Beyond that, the whole scheme just screams 1970s. The worst of the 1970s.
The Manila Mavericks opted for a powder blue scheme. Baby blue? Some shade of light blue.
As blues go, it’s probably not the go-to choice, although it did flatter the colouring of some of the players. (They apparently didn’t give Philipp Kohlschreiber an official jacket; he was a “sub” who ended up getting a call on the last day. Why he didn’t have a jacket when the assorted non-playing support peeps did? Dunno).
Last (literally) but definitely not least, we had the Singapore Slammers. Good colour choices. Snappy.
Singapore certainly also won the “Team Gorgeous” award, with the likes of Patrick Rafter, Tomas Berdych and Daniela Hantuchova.
We’re not sure what it means that the link above selling IPTL merch, doesn’t have any of these official tracksuits for sale. Kitschy though they are, they would at least be unique.
Player fun level
This was off the charts. And in the end, beyond the nice cheques they handed right over to their accountants, this is what the players will probably remember.
There are so few opportunities for the players to bond, cheer, relax and remember why they started to play tennis in the first place. Because it’s FUN. While it seemed strange at times to see them jump out of their chairs and go nuts for something that doesn’t even count, it was genuine.
It also created an opportunity for employees from various departments, so to speak, to bond. Kind of like a tennis office Christmas party. There were superstars, and the rank and file. There were doubles specialists. And there were legends. And there were legends who also were doubles specialists, like Daniel Nestor. For three weeks, they sort of all seemed equal. And that was great, too.
A lot of people brought this up as something that just pointed out how great Davis Cup is. And it is. But it’s men only. What it evoked here was what we’ve always felt was an opportunity lost: The Olympics.
We have no idea why the ITF decided on the format they did as tennis returned to the Games. The way it’s set up now, it seems like just another tennis tournament, albeit with weaker fields because of the country limits, the appearance of players who don’t really have any business being there because of the various wild cards, and a relative lack of ranking points available.
How great would the Olympic tennis event be if it were a team event? There’s no doubt you would see a competitor’s countrymen and women showing up to cheer them on. It would put it on a level greater than just a rank-and-file tour event with fancier jackets. And it would give it something unique.
Remember that “team event” for figure skating in Sochi? Notwithstanding it was just a money grab, a way to add more events to one of the glamour sports at the Winter Games, it added a lot in terms of seeing each country’s skaters cheering on their teammates.
As an aside, the IPTL also showed off some heretofore hidden musical abilities.
At first, they were cute.
After a week, they were repetitive.
By the end, they were somewhat irritating.
If there was any upside, it’s possible that the IPTL may have killed the tennis group selfie, once and for all.
And in the end, that can’t be a bad thing.
Let’s be honest: the legend showed up, looking like he just got off the couch, unshaven, ready to collect his cheque but not much else.
He didn’t seem to get into the spirit of the thing too much, always seeming to be somewhat outside the action.
He did play his first set, against Patrick Rafter.
But Captain Fabrice Santoro had to substitute himself in during Sampras’s second match, against Goran Ivanisevic.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 10, 2014
For his one match in Dubai (Sampras was contracted for two in New Delhi, “home ground” for his team, and the first one in Dubai)
It turns out there was an injury. A hamstring. So he played a set and a half for his payday.
Sampras (and/or Nike) at least had the good taste to boycott the official suit.
It looked like he left his jacket at home, too. In the end, other than being Sampras, he just looked uncomfortable and added little to the show. His compatriot, Andre Agassi, also didn’t add a whole lot during the brief time he was there.
Now, if the two could have been participating at the same time, and played against each other, we might have had something.
IPTL MVP (female)
Ana Ivanovic, who played the entire season, just showed once again why she’s just the most adorable thing there is on the WTA Tour.
Maybe in the world as a whole.
She didn’t get into the show of the thing on the court too much – that’s just not something the ladies seem capable of doing, which is why off-season exhibitions involving just the women really don’t have the same buzz that the men have.
She just played her tennis. But the rest of the time, what a blast she was.
There was the constant cheering from the bench, as well as the dispensing of towels and water.
There were the hilarious pics on the private jet, when she donned the flight attendant’s hat and was at the service of her teammates (no, seriously, wasn’t that the very, very greatest?
She was there when her captain needed some on-court nursing.
Basically, she was everything. What a great sport.
IPTL MVP (male)
Gaël Monfils, in a landslide.
If tennis were a yearlong exhibition, Monfils would be the king of tennis.
It’s a made-to-measure format for him. Not only does he being up the spirit of his team, he lifts the hearts of the crowd.
And he loves EVERY minute of it.
And there was the signature move:
The biggest criticism people seemed to have about the IPTL going in was that with all the complaints about the short off-season (although that got dialed down quite a bit this year), this would shorten it even more.
For the very top players, it really wasn’t an issue. The likes of Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and the Fed basically played a weekend (remember when Murray and Sharapova were on court together? Somehow it seems like six months ago already).
[caption id=”attachment_17335″ align=”alignright” width=”347″ class=” “] Some solid wrist taping on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.[/caption]
Yes, there was a long trip to get there. And for many, a lot of travelling during the season. But you didn’t see them play too many (if any) other off-season exhibitions. So no big deal. For example, compare the weekend Federer spent in New Delhi to his multimillion exhibition tour of South America a few years ago. No contest.
The other players, even the very good ones, did not have the luxury of being able to pick and choose a few days. They had to commit to the entire three-week series. Despite the private jets and the no-doubt top-class accommodations, and even though they weren’t playing full matches at competitive-stress level, it still had to be grueling.
Sania Mirza told Sports360 that several members of her team, including Ivanovic and Monfils, caught a cold.
Indian Aces captain Fabrice Santoro said this:
“I spoke to the top guys, like Tomas Berdych for example. He’s working hard every day, he’s on the court fighting every afternoon or evening for his team and preparing also for the next season. Same for Gael Monfils. Same for Roger Federer when he was with us in Delhi last week. Yes it’s one more competition but everyone is having a lot of fun and you can also prepare for next season,” said the veteran Frenchman.”
Santoro also said this, about the experience a kid like Nick Kyrgios can take from it.
“If you like at the Singapore Slammers for example, I’m sure a kid like Kyrgios has learnt a lot from Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt in the past two weeks. Because they weren’t only the bench and on the court together but also having breakfast, lunch and dinner together, talking about the future of his game, of his career, how he should work if he wants to go to the top. And there are many examples like this in every team.”
The two biggest casualties are likely to be the Frenchies, Monfils and Tsonga.
Tsonga was criticized a lot for not being up to playing Federer in the Davis Cup final, but still more than able to jet off to Asia to pick up a big cheque (Richard Gasquet said it was in the neighbourhood of a cool million – nothing close to Sharapova, who was getting a reported $1 million a night for two nights, but still…).
Tsonga reportedly told l’Equipe that he’s not 100 per cent sure that he’ll be good to go for the Australian Open, with the wrist still an issue. But that’s likely to have been the case with or without the IPTL. It’s one thing to play a set basically for fun; it’s another to play a lot of best-of-five setters in the heat of a Grand Slam.
As well, it seems Monfils may have injured himself during the last weekend in Dubai.
The bad news is that Gael Monfils has picked up a hamstring injury. He says he’s in a bit of pain & will need tests to find out what’s up
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 13, 2014
In the end, only the players can judge whether their participation in the league is worth any potential price they will pay during the long Tour seasons. And it’s probably something they can only assess towards the end of the season.
And even then, it will be nearly impossible to pin any issues with health or results on the IPTL, or on a possible drop in the level of preparation compared to other off-seasons.
Maybe they’ll find that pushing it less hard in off-season training might actually make them fresher to start 2015. Most of them overdo it as it is. The lure of the extra coin will always come into play.
You hope they take the time to really look at it and assess it wisely because in the end, without the results, they won’t have the opportunity to cash those off-season cheques anyway.
From the get-go, the IPTL’s Twitter feed was already aggravating.
For awhile, it seemed as though they were re-Tweeting every single Tweet they got from people who bought tickets.
It was a a TwitAttack. Okay, we got it: people bought tickets.
After that, they definitely laid it on a little thick. People got a little carried away. None of the one-set deals played here were actually “rematches” of anything that has happened in a Grand Slam event.
No one was really living and dying with every single moment.
OMG IT’S JOHN BLOM!!!!!!!!!!
It was all a little too much. And now that it’s over, if you’re still following, there should be hundreds of re-Tweets of fans describing their experiences. Always life-changing, always incredible.
The commentary was equally breathless at times, from the seasoned A-team of Jason Goodall and Robbie Koenig no less. This was not, to say the least, the Wimbledon finals.
Koenig, especially, got a little too enthousiastic for his own good about the level of drama.
To be fair, this was a first time for them, as well.
Hopefully they’ll find just the right tone the next time around. It really was as though they were trying a little too hard to create the excitement.
If the IPTL tennis gods were fair, the season would have ended with the crazy-good matchup in New Delhi featuring Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, both of whom played singles and doubles that night.
There was the crazy “Damn, how’d that racquet slip out of my hands” moment from the Djoker. There was the Monfils Samprasian overhead and the shoulder bump with the Fed. There was the somewhat ridiculously insane back-turned, forehand-high-swing volley piece of art from the Fed. There was the shootout. There was drama. There was a delirious crowd. There was everything.
And then, came Dubai.
Unlike the other stops, which were fairly well-attended overall, the Dubai matches were played in front of friends, family and diehards.
There supposedly were some 6,000 tickets sold for each of the three days (the capacity of the fancy new indoor arena on the outskirts of Dubai was 8,000). A lot of them came disguised as empty seats.
The Aces celebrated in front of an empty house.
A little mixed doubles, anyone?
The IPTL players got close … But how close did they get?
Especially with the players from the opposing teams … in other words, THE ENEMY!!
Meanwhile, Daniel Nestor’s Grand Slam mixed doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic ended up paired with Nestor’s former partner, Nenad Zimonjic, thoughout the season.
And Nestor played with Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium. Kirsten for Kiki, as it were.
Both teams really played well together.
Will we see a little partner-swapping out in Australia?
We’ll keep you posted on all these potential developments down there.