Manila: Indian Aces notched up their third win on the trot with a 28-20 victory over UAE Royals in the battle of two unbeaten sides in an India Premier Tennis League match here on Sunday.
After today's win, Indian Aces topped the table after the Manila leg to emerge early front-runner in the high-profile tournament.
The Indian side, however, began with a loss with Ana Ivanovic going down fighting 4-6 in the Kristina Mladenovic in the first women's singles. The battle of the in-form women's singles players was a thrilling contest with Ivanovic almost making a sensational comeback from 1-5 down before eventually losing the match.
Experienced mixed doubles pair Sania Mirza and Rohan Bopanna registered a 6-3 second set win over Mladenovic and Nenad Zimonjic and Indian Aces took the advantage with Bopanna partnering the crowd favorite Gael Monfils to a 6-4 victory over Zimonjic and Marin Cilic in men's doubles.
An injury pulled Cilic out from early in the set against Monfils, but Malek Jaziri was a more than capable substitute. However, the creative Frenchman Monfils pulled off a 6-3 win to extend the Indian side's lead.
The past champions' singles was the main event worth waiting for, with big serves and entertaining shot-making from Goran Ivanisevic and Fabrice Santoro. Frenchman Santoro emerged 6-4 winner over Ivanisevic to complete the dominance by Indian Aces.
Monfils was later all praise for the kind of tennis being played in the tournament.
"I love this format. This suits me well. I love the team atmosphere. We have fun out there. Actually we're good friends - Ana, Sania - we grew up together. It's a good competition because we have fun," he said.
Monfils also commented on the use of a coach's substitution.
"I was surprised with the substitution (of Cilic). Malek is tough but I think I was in great shape. I'm happy to win for my team. After three wins, I feel great, I feel strong."
Bopanna added, "We're having a lot of fun and keeping each other motivated."
Player coach Santoro said he enjoyed his time in Manila.
"I will remember the hospitality and how many people love tennis here and are happy to see the best champions in the world and if you ask the crowd they'll want to have this back again next year."
In the second match of the day, home team Manila Mavericks withstood an inspired Serena Williams to beat Singapore Slammers 27-19 before adoring fans.
Mark Philippoussis was drafted in as a substitute due to Carlos Moya's injury and he proved the right choice by entertaining the home crowd with brilliant tennis, taking the first set against Patrick Rafter 6-2.
Mavericks' player-coach Treat Huey and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga whipped the audience into a frenzy in their 6-5 win over the in-form Singapore doubles pair of Nick Kyrgios and Tomas Berdych. Kyrgios was substituted mid-set for Lleyton Hewitt.
The crowd called out its admiration for a living legend of the sport as Serena Williams took to the court with Hewitt for the mixed doubles, but it was the home team duo of Andy Murray and Kirsten Flipkens who earned the 6-1 win.
Williams proved why she is the number one women's tennis player in the world as she broke Flipkens' serve several times to win a set (6-3) for Singapore Slammers, but Murray held on against Nick Kyrgios in Manila's last shootout to finally grab the home team's first win in the tournament.
Williams said she enjoyed being introduced to the format today.
"I love the team atmosphere. If you lose a match everyone is still positive and that's what I love about it. The reception of the crowd has been amazing. Everyone's so nice. Just warming up and hearing the crowd was spectacular and unexpected. I feel honored to feel that. I've never played and been here before," she said.
"It's good to come to countries like this because you realize we have fans everywhere and we never get to come to places where some of the fans are and forget that you do have fans everywhere. It feels good to have that opportunity," she added.
"I would like to give more time to it (IPTL). We're having so much fun and it's been very enjoyable for me and I think, for the most part, most of the top players are joining so, we kind of support it."
Murray was delighted to sign off his time in Manila with a win for his team.
"It's nice to finish the weekend with two wins today. It was a good atmosphere at the end. The way that it finished was a nice way for it to end, with the new format," he said.
"No one really knew exactly how it was going to go, but because of how much I enjoyed it, and how well organized it was, I would consider playing more next year, for sure."