New Delhi: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal exhibited glimpses of their time-tested brilliance with the racquet in front of overawed fans as India Aces defeated Obi UAE Royals 30-19 in an International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) match here on Saturday.
The marquee showdown of the exhibition tournament, thought up by Mahesh Bhupathi and aimed at popularising the game in non-frontline tennis countries, was the last match-up of the third and final day of the Delhi leg of the tournament.
And the two living legends, with a combined jaw-dropping 31 Grand Slam victories to their name, didn’t disappoint.
They first took guard in the men’s doubles match. Nadal teaming up with Rohan Bopanna, Federer pairing up with Marin Cilic. The Indo-Spanish pair won.
But the “pure’ moment arrived after it when the left they squared off on the opposite sides of the net. Aces already had an overwhelming 24-14 lead over Royals.
Nadal led 23-11 in competitive head to head encounters. And they began with fierce intent, both charging to the net at every opportunity and attempting winners.
Nadal broke Federer in the first game to go 2-0 up but Federer was soon level at 2-2. Nadal quickly regained his ascendancy by breaking the Swiss and then holding serve.
Federer again made a comeback, saving two match points, to break back and force a shootout after 5-5 amidst incessant shouts of “Vamos Nadal” and “Come on, Federer”.
The topsy-turvy fight again swung Nadal’s way as he went a 4-0 up in the tie-breaker. Federer mounted back to 5-4 but was finally conquered at 7-4, conceding the set 6-5 after a hotly-contested 38 minutes.
The frame-freezing moment of the day, however, arrived earlier when Nadal walked onto the court at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium to the rapturous applause of an appreciative crowd.
The footfalls were kind even though the stands still weren’t full at the 15,000-capacity stadium despite the mouth-watering prospect of watching the two greatest players of modern tennis live.
The Spaniard shook hands with all his Indian Aces team-mates and then the moment arrived when he walked up to the practicing Roger Federer, who was loosening up at the other side of the court, and exchanged pleasantries with his great rival much to the delight of the spectators.
They then sent the crowd in a tizzy by to practicing together alongside each other in the same court.
The expensive tickets bought by the fans expecting to witness such rare moments seemed, for once, justifiable and the wait worthwhile.
An euphoric reception then awaited the two legends as the teams were introduced in the middle of the court amidst loud music.
No one cared much for on-field action after it, the result of the tie being purely academic, even though they enjoyed the intensity displayed by the two thorough professionals.
Aces began the tie strongly as its mixed doubles pair of Bopanna and Sania Mirza quickly took a 3-0 lead against Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic in 30 minutes.
The Indians maintained their ascendancy against the Canadian-French duo throughout to close the set at 6-4.
Polish Agnieszka Radwanska increased the advantage taking only 20 minutes to dismiss French starlet Kristina Mladenovic 6-1.
Frenchman Fabrice Santoro won 6-5 against Croatian Goran Ivanisevic 6-5. Nadal-Bopanna beat Federer-Cilic 6-4 followed by the epic Nadal-Federer clash.
Earlier in the day, OUE Singapore Slammers edged out Legendari Japan Warriors 24-22. The win kept Slammers and Warriors at their respective positions of third and fifth, respectively, in the five-franchise standings.
Slammers now have three of their six matches while have only a solitary win after seven contests.
The IPTK bandwagon will next move to Dubai where matches will be played from December 16-18.