Arguably tennis’ greatest ever rivalry will get a new stage on Saturday, when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer clash as part of the International Premier Tennis League in New Delhi. Now in its second season, the team exhibition event features some of the world’s top players, past and present, including two men who have won a combined 31 Grand Slam titles.
Federer has joined up with the UAE Royals team for what is the third leg of the competition, taking place over three days in India’s capital. Nadal, meanwhile, has been with the Indian Aces since the last leg in Manila. And Nadal has made it clear he is relishing his first experience of the event, which is being contested during tennis’ off-season, before the ATP Tour resumes next month ahead of the Australian Open.
“IPTL has been great so far and hopefully I will be back,” he said at a press conference, per The Times of India. “I have liked the format, the team spirit is good, I think I am going to be back. I don't think these are exhibition matches, these games are very competitive. The intensity of competition is good. I feel the rules are perfect in the IPTL and it's a great idea.
“It is an unbelievable event. I have had a very good time so far and it's a preparation for the next season. The format is quick and anything can happen. The matches can also become very close quickly.”
More than most, Nadal will be hoping for improved fortunes in 2016. The Spaniard, whose total of 14 Grand Slams is only bettered by Federer, endured a troubled year, in which he failed to land one of the sport’s Majors for the first time since 2004. But he enjoyed a return to form at the end of 2015, including dismantling Andy Murray en route to the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals.
The 29-year-old’s improved form also included a run to the final in Basel, where he was stopped in his tracks by Federer. That was the first time the Swiss had triumphed over his great foe in more than three years, although he still trails in the head-to-head rivalry, 23-11.
It was, though, an impressive year for Federer, especially given that he is now 34 -- an age when most players have already hung up their racket. But despite winning six titles and reaching two Grand Slam finals, losing both to Novak Djokovic, Federer has shown that he is still seeking more. In recent days he announced that his coaching partnership with Swedish legend Stefan Edberg was coming to an end, with Ivan Ljubicic coming on board as a replacement. The Croatian, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 3, had formally tutored Canadian Milos Raonic.
The fruits of the new partnership are unlikely to be visible in New Delhi, but it is clear that Federer remains committed to an attacking approach and is still attempting everything to improve in the aim of ultimately landing Grand Slam No. 18.
“He likes to play quick and this format suits him,” Nadal said of Federer. “Anything can happen but I am very excited to play that match tomorrow. I am looking forward to it.”
The format sees the teams compete over five sets in multiple formats -- men’s singles, women’s singles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles and men’s legend singles. Also on Nadal’s Indian Aces team are French entertainer Fabrice Santoro, No. 5-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, Indian favorite Sania Mirza, Croatian Ivan Dodig and Indian doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna. Federer is joined by former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, world No. 5 Tomas Berdych, French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, U.S. Open quarterfinalist Kristina Mladenovic and multiple doubles Grand Slam winner Daniel Nestor.
Start time: 9 a.m. EST
TV channel: Tennis Channel
Live stream: IPTLWorld.com