Andy Murray not only forged a rare doubles team-up with Maria Sharapova in the recent Manila edition of the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL); he also reunited with his 2006 Wimbledon mixed-doubles ally Kirsten Flipkens, who helped him wallop the superstar pair of Serena Williams and Aussie legend Leyton Hewitt.
And after his first and lone singles triumph, the Scotsman—often seen on the men’s tour scowling, smirking, grimacing and mumbling to himself (not to mention toward his box and mum Judy) as if he’s playing his worst game ever—uncharacteristically raised his arms and racquet in the air, egging the Manila Mavericks home crowd to cheer louder.
We could go on citing all our favorite Murray moments in IPTL Manila, because there’s no other arena where the two-time grand slam winner would play or behave in such fashion.
But the IPTL has given us a unique perspective about the sport, such that dwelling only on Murray and his ilk would be unfair to the other players who, in the course of the three-day affair at the Mall of Asia Arena, have all given Filipinos more reasons to love tennis.
We are grateful to doubles champion-IPTL founder Mahesh Bhupathi and his co-organizers. They created four franchise teams—the Manila Mavericks, Singapore Slammers, Indian Aces and UAE Royals—that merged the game’s latest stars with the legends and young talents. In fact Bhupati has already assured fans the league will be back in Manila.
The IPTL’s fast format allowed everybody near-equal exposure on court. Its structure resembled the Davis Cup, the annual men’s team tourney contested by participating countries, but with a highly interactive, entertaining and fan-centric atmosphere.
Win or lose, the teams were encouraged to take “tenfies” (tennis + selfies) and share these on social media. Who else would take the lead but No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych, the tall, gorgeous Czech with a penchant for taking selfies?
The crowd went wild whenever Gael Monfils showed his cool dance moves. He said it was his way to show appreciation for the efforts of the DJ, whom he pointed out to the crowd on Day 2, acknowledging the spinner with an enthusiastic head-bop and telling him, “Very good, thank you.”
The French showman’s antics were so infectious that he even got his demure Aces teammate Ana Ivanovic to break into dance.
Monfils’ countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga inspired Filipino-American Treat Huey (tret hyoo-wee) to mimic the signature Tsonga move—combining a kick, high jump and intense fist pump—after their convincing disposal of the first-rate Berdych-Hewitt pair-up.
At age 41, Fabrice Santoro didn’t drop a set in any of his matches against other legends. The retired French athlete, aka “The Magician,” displayed his coaching skills as well, taking his Indian Aces on a winning streak during the Manila leg even if there were only five players present.
Goran Ivanisevic, who in his prime was known to throw temper tantrums, made Manila audiences laugh at his funny antics, such as stepping on court and nodding appreciatively at the sexy dancers who performed during breaks.
Although arriving in the latter stage of IPTL Manila to replace the Mavericks’ Carlos Moya, who had sustained a groin injury, Mark Philippoussis immediately won over the home crowd with a debut-match triumph over fellow Aussie Patrick Rafter.
Pinch-hitting for Sharapova who couldn’t play against another top seed, Flipkens lost her match against the indomitable No. 1-ranked Serena Williams but gained plenty of fans for her valiant effort.
And of course there was the home team’s playing coach Huey. He and Tsonga had scored victories for the Mavericks in the men’s doubles category, including their first and second matches in Singapore against the likes of reigning US Open champ Marin Cilic and Serbian doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic.
Thanks to the IPTL, by this time more of us would be able to recognize Huey who had coached Andy, MaSha and the rest of the Mavericks—and correctly pronounce his name, too.