World number one Serena Williams is being called upon to do the heavy lifting and rescue her struggling Singapore Slammers team at the inaugural International Premier Tennis League tournament.
"We're really excited about Serena coming. She's an international superstar.... Everyone here in Manila is pretty pumped up and our team has been talking about it," their Australian coach Josh Eagle said Saturday.
The Williams-led team were plastered by the Roger Federer-led India Aces on Friday as the IPTL, a speeded-up, television-friendly tennis format, made its debut in Manila. Organisers said the American superstar was set to play Kirsten Flipkens of the Manila Mavericks on Sunday as the Manila leg of this year's IPTL tournament ends. She will also play in the mixed doubles.
"She's been sending us text messages. She's really excited about going in," Eagle told a news conference ahead of Saturday's match against the UAE Royals. The IPTL tour, which will also have stops in Singapore, New Delhi and Dubai next month, has a team format with ties consisting of five one-set matches, with no advantages. The first to six games wins.
A 20-second shot-clock between points guarantees quick play, and at 5-5, players go into a timed shoot-out in which they must accumulate the most points before time is up. Players receiving a serve can also call a "happiness power point" once per set, meaning the next point will count double.
The Singapore team managed to win only one match Friday as world number seven Tomas Berdych teamed up with rising Australian Nick Kyrgios to beat the Aces' men's doubles pair, Gael Monfils and Rohan Bopanna. Struggling Daniela Hantuchova lost both her women's singles and mixed doubles matches.
She was thrashed 0-6 in the former by world number five Ana Ivanovic. The Slammers' fortunes still looked to be as dire Saturday as Berdych promptly lost to reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic 4-6 in the first match of their tie against the UAE Royals.
Eagle said the 31-year-old Hantuchova had recently changed coaches, taking former Li Na and Justine Henine mentor Carlos Rodriguez, and was still adjusting. "She's made a few technical changes in the last couple of weeks and she was probably struggling a little bit with confidence," he said of the Slovak.
"She's a great player. She'll be back. She'll be fine." Eagle said he was taking nothing away from Ivanovic, who he said had probably had one of the most successful years on the women's circuit in 2014.