New Delhi: Even after two successive appearances, Roger Federer can't really make up his mind on where to bracket the IPTL in his busy schedule but the Swiss superstar firmly believes that Mahesh Bhupathi's brainchild is no exhibition event.
The 17-time Grand Slam winner turned up for the UAE Royals this year after appearing for the Indian Aces in the last edition. But changing the teams hardly made a difference to his popularity with the crowd cheering as vociferously for him as his replacement in the Indian team the iconic Rafael Nadal.
In the marquee face-off between the legendary rivals last night, Nadal trumped Federer in a shootout to guide his team to a victory. But clearly enjoying the adulation despite the loss, Federer was at his wittiest best at the post-match press conference.
So when asked whether he would call the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) an exhibition event, the Swiss maestro came up with an answer that had the media in splits.
"The question is what is an exhibition? There is a kids' day exhibition in Australia Nickelodeon style, obviously where you hit and giggle with Scooby Doo, you know. This is not Scooby Doo, so clearly we are playing serious tennis," said Federer as League's founder Bhupathi laughed along with the present media.
"You have 15,000 people who are serious about tennis, so it is a question of who is in the crowd. Is the crowd filled with 10-year-olds because it's the kids' day or is it because people want to see great tennis and support the Indian Aces and the UAE Royals? Depends on how you see it, to me it is serious tennis with the fun aspect of playing for your team," he explained.
Harping on the merits of the League, which has managed to bring some of the biggest stars of the game to India, a country not known to host big-ticket tennis events, Federer said he is especially impressed with the legends, who signed up to play in the tournament.
The IPTL has a galaxy of former stars appearing for the five participating franchises, including the likes of Goran Ivanisevic, Carlos Moya and Marat Safin all of whom came down for the India leg.
"It's played with great spirit and fairplay. And seeing the legends play in the team, it is phenomenal to see them. I would like to give them a shout out for playing so well because I think it is really hard for them to do what they are doing. Personally, I love it, so call it an exhibition or not, I don't know what it is but it is a fun concept and that's why I am back here again," Federer said.
Federer though is not willing to make a commitment for a third successive appearance at the event, just yet.
"I am not sure (about that) yet but I have loved it so far and that's why I came here this year. But I have to see (about next year), it's a busy year. I need to see how the first quarter of the year goes and then we will have conversations as we go along. I still have to speak to a lot of people before I make that decision and that includes my wife," he said.
In fact, if his schedule allowed and his family agreed, Federer said he would love to take a holiday in India.
"I have got a busy life you know. I have young kids and I don't know how much they love to travel when it slows down, when we don t have the tournaments. That is my block right now as far as travelling to India is concerned because travelling to India can't be like a weekend trip. So I would like to take my time when I come here for a vacation," he said.
Post his IPTL commitments this year, which includes being part of the Dubai and Singapore leg next week, Federer said he would take some time off to celebrate the festive season before starting again.
"I play in Dubai, two legs (of IPTL) on December 14 and 15 and then on December 18 I play in Singapore. So, what I am doing is just stay in practice, training in the morning and playing in the evening. Once Singapore is over, I will go into overdrive of practice. I will enjoy Christmas with my family and then travel to Brisbane at the beginning of the year," he said.
Federer also spoke about his decision to partner compatriot legend Martina Hingis in mixed doubles for the Olympic Games next year.
"I am very excited about it. She was a hero of mine, I used to be a 15-year-old practicing at the National Tennis Centre, while she was winning the Wimbledon. So, I couldn't believe what she was doing and it is beautiful to see that she is still playing. Yes we are a little bit rusty after 15 years of not playing together but hopefully we have some time and we are looking forward to playing at the Olympics," he said.
On his recent decision to replace Stefan Edberg with Ivan Ljubicic as his new coach, Federer said it was a harmonious split and he is excited to now share ideas with someone who has played against the same rivals as he has on the circuit.
"With Stefan the idea was to do it for one year, I couldn't believe when he said yes to that idea in the first place. I had him for two years, which has been amazing, he was a hero of mine growing up. We had a great split in the sense that he had known for 10 months that he was to end at the end of this year," Federer said.
"Ivan and I have known each other for a long long time and it is the first time I have somebody in my team, who has played against the players that I have played against. My coaches in the past have all been from a different generation and I think Ivan can bring something very exciting to my team, may be a new word or idea. I like to hear a lot of information I think I have the mind to process a lot of information," he said with a smile.
Besides, the legendary player also revealed that he would be speaking to compatriot Stansilas Wawrinka to decide on whether to form a men's doubles team for the Olympics.
"I will speak to him in January or February. We talked together at the World Tour Finals. He knows about the Hingis thing and he knew I was going to announce that. It is likely.