SINGAPORE - Playing their first tie on home ground, the OUE Singapore Slammers opened their International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) campaign with a 29-16 victory over the Japan Warriors yesterday (Dec 6).
But the win was greeted by fewer than 1,000 in the stands of the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and coupled with the absence of a marquee player, the result was an atmosphere far more subdued than in the event's previous two editions here.
Sure, world No. 10 Tomas Berdych and usual crowd favourites like Ana Ivanovic took the court, but many had shown up expecting Serena Williams.
The American 22-time Grand Slam singles champion had been pencilled in for the Singapore leg, but did not make the trip owing to what organisers say were financial challenges on their part.
It was also announced yesterday that Swiss legend and former world No. 1 Roger Federer, who was slated to play in the Hyderabad leg which starts on Friday, will also not feature. The organisers are in the midst of arranging upgrades and refunds for fans.
IPTL founder and Indian doubles player Mahesh Bhupathi had hoped that the unique format of the event - it features an abbreviated format - and the draw of other top players would still bring the crowds in.
While those who did show up yesterday remained generous with their cheers and applause, many also expressed disappointment with the tournament's organisation this year. They found the uncertainty over which stars would be appearing an irritation.
Said 25-year-old Fan Peiyi, a Marat Safin fan who bought a three-day pass: "It felt like it wasn't going to happen and people didn't know which players were coming for sure.
"The organisers should have made their announcements sooner and in a clearer manner."
For those who witnessed the star power of Federer when he featured here last year, the difference this year was even more stark.
Said Ms Shaline Tan, a 28-year-old teacher: "The response from the public seems to be colder this year.
"The format is not an issue - people don't really care about the format. They care about the stars. There's been a lack of awareness about who would be here this year."
But not all are disgruntled.
IT professional Kavimi Nayab, 46, who watched the IPTL for the first time yesterday with his wife and two children, is likely to return.
"You can still see a lot of world-class players in action, and that's a plus."
In the earlier tie, the Indian Aces beat the UAE Royals 26-19.
Day 2: StarHub Ch201, 5pm & 8.30pm