By Amlan Chakraborty
Rafa Nadal has withdrawn from the inaugural International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) but the organisers pulled off a coup on Monday by naming Swiss maestro Roger Federer as replacement for the injured Spaniard.
Fourteen times grand slam winner Nadal dealt a big blow to the fledgling tournament by pulling out of the Indian franchise citing ‘health problems’.
“When you are talking of profile as high as Rafa Nadal, there was probably only one name that could have helped ease the pain and for us fortunately Roger was available and we made it happen,” IPTL founder Mahesh Bhupathi told reporters.
“Rafa has been hurt since Wimbledon, he has not played any tennis. So obviously there was a risk there, in the format we have neither party wanted to take a chance.
Nadal, who has a 23-10 head-to-head lead against Federer, missed the US Open last month after failing to recover from a right wrist injury he sustained in practice.
“I am very disappointed to announce that I will not be part of the first edition of the IPTL,” Nadal, 28, said in a statement from the organisers.
“I was looking forward to representing Indian Aces and playing in front of fans in New Delhi in the exciting new League.
“I wish the team the very best and hope to be back next year.”
Getting Federer on board was all the more satisfying for the organisers as the Swiss great, the winner of a record 17 grand slam titles, had initially appeared apprehensive of the league.
“Earlier on, when I was talking to the players a year and half ago, Roger was expecting his set of twins. I don’t think he could be making too many commitments at that point,” Bhupathi, the Indian doubles specialist, added.
“Obviously now he is very sure about his schedule and we are very happy to have him play for India.”
Federer joins retired American Pete Sampras, winner of 14 grand slam titles, in the Indian franchise of the four-team event, scheduled to be played from Nov. 28 to Dec. 13.
“I’m really looking forward to making my first trip to New Delhi and playing for the Micromax Indian aces,” Federer said in a recorded message.
Philippines, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates are home to the other teams and will each host a leg of the competition, styled on cricket’s Indian Premier League and offering $1 million prize money.
Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic, his women’s counterpart Serena Williams, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and former women’s top-ranked players Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki have also confirmed their participation.
The teams will compete in men’s and women’s singles, men’s and mixed doubles and a men’s legends singles with one set per match, and no advantage scoring.
Speaking on the tournament’s viability, Bhupathi said he expected the franchisees in India and Philippines to break even earlier, maybe in the next two or three years.
“Each team is going to be different. I think India and Manila will probably break even before Dubai and Singapore because these are the markets where these kind of stars have not been seen before.
“Singapore and Dubai are mature markets. Singapore has WTA Championship there and Dubai has Dubai Open.”
IPTL chief operating officer Eric Gottschalk said the league might feature a fifth Asian franchise next year.
“We are trying to add one more team next year and possibly the maximum we can have is eight teams by maybe 2017-18,” he added.
The Delhi leg of the IPTL is scheduled from Dec 6-8.