World Tennis League: Felix helps Kites fly high

World No.1 Iga Swiatek delivers the star performance on the opening day at the Coca-Cola Arena

by

Leslie Wilson Jr

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Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime during his match against Australian Nick Kyrgios. — Photo by Shihab
Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime during his match against Australian Nick Kyrgios. — Photo by Shihab

Published: Tue 20 Dec 2022, 2:17 AM

Traditionally, tournaments are conceptualised as competitions where winning is the overriding factor. But the new World Tennis League (WTL) aims to alter the perception of popular sport and showcase it to a wider audience with the assistance of exciting post-match concerts.

A point that was highlighted by someone who sits at the pinnacle of women’s tennis – Polish World No.1 Iga Swiatek.

Speaking after her team, The Kites, won the opening match of the four-team tournament when they defeated the Eagles 2-0, Swiatek said: “The score isn’t the most important thing here. Mostly it’s fun and learning, so I’m pretty happy that I played such a solid game.”

Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum (fourth from right) with Novak Djokovic. — Supplied photo
Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum (fourth from right) with Novak Djokovic. — Supplied photo

Fun sums it up. Right from the fan-friendly format which features crisp, two-set matches in singles and mixed-doubles between some of the world’s top men’s and women’s players who then make way for stars of the music world to bring the house down at the Coca-Cola Arena.

For the record, Swiatek pulled The Kites back into the match when she defeated WTA finals champion Caroline Garcia 6-3- 6-4 after the Eagles pairing of Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios to defeated Eugenie Bouchard and Holger Rune.

Eagles pairing of Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios in action against Eugenie Bouchard and Holger Rune. — Photo by Shihab
Eagles pairing of Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios in action against Eugenie Bouchard and Holger Rune. — Photo by Shihab

With the match tantalisingly tied at 1-1, it was left to Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, a former World No 6, to seal victory for the Kites with a 7-5, 6-3 domination of Australian Nick Kyrgios, the 2022 Wimbledon runner-up.

“Team events have been very successful for me this year, winning almost everyone of them,” said Auger-Aliassime. “Hopefully we can win again. We’ve got some world’s best players on our team so it’s a privilege to play with them. It’s a lot of fun so I hope we can go all the way.

“We’ve got an amazing week ahead of us. Good tennis and a lot of great artists (performing) here.”

No surprising for guessing that the spotlight on day one of the World Tennis League was on the world’s highest ranked player Swiatek, who was at her best against an opponent who would not go down easily.

The hour-long match also helped demonstrate that the women’s game has never looked healthier or more engaging with every point being well contested.

Swaitek may have ended the year in pole position but nothing can be taken for granted in the New Year given what we saw Garcia deliver when she had her moments on the custom-built orange hard-court at the Coca-Cola Arena.

“Truth be told, I wasn’t counting games,” she said in reference to the tournament’s unique scoring format. “I’m pretty confident I can focus on other things in matches, change something up with my tactics, or just implement what I’ve been working on in the off-season.”

The festive atmosphere also enabled her to test her inimitable shot-making before heading to the Australia Grand Slam in January.

“There’s always something to improve. I’m 21, so I think I can actually do many things, but on volleys, especially, we’ve been working on my volley game," she added.

“Rohan [Bopanna] taught me some volleys before the tournament. Hopefully, I can use the experience of such amazing players to learn a lot.”

RESULTS

> Kites def Eagles 2-1

Bianca Andreescu/Nick Kyrgios (Eagles) def Holger Rune/Eugenie Bouchard (Kites) 6-2 6-3

Iga Swiatek (Kites) def Caroline Garcia (Eagles) 6-3 6-4

Felix Auger-Aliassime (Kites) def Nick Kyrgios (Eagles) 7-5 6-3

> The Kites win 35 points, The Eagles win 27 points

TUESDAY'S SCHEDULE

> Falcons vs Hawks

Grigor Dimitrov/Paula Badosa vs Dominic Thiem/Sorana Cirstea

Aryna Sabalenka vs Elena Rybakina

Novak Djokovic vs Alexander Zverev


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