Novak Djokovic Eases to Win Over Vasek Pospisil at Eastbourne International
Elliot J. Cornish in Eastbourne
Novak Djokovic recorded his first victory of the grass court season with a 6-4 6-3 win over Vasek Pospisil on a rain-curtailed day at the Eastbourne International.
The Serb, making his debut appearance and Eastbourne and his first appearance in a Wimbledon warm-up for seven years, proved too strong for his Canadian opponent who reached the last eight a fortnight ago in s’Hertogenbosch.
There was also success for Eastbourne’s Johanna Konta, who rattled past Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-2 in a rematch of their controversial Great Britain-Romania Fed Cup encounter in April. Konta was scheduled to return last on Centre to duel French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, but was halted by the weather.
Meanwhile, world number one Angelique Kerber improved her chances of holding onto the spot with a battling performance against Kristyna Pliskova, in which she prevailed 7-5 in the third set – but only after Pliskova failed to serve out the win. Her closest rival Simona Halep came through her first match of the day in three over Ying Ying Duan, but found herself a set down to grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova before rain brought proceedings to an end at around 5pm.
Elsewhere, Richard Gasquet escaped from a set and a break down against American 19-year-old Frances Tiafoe to reach the second round on Court 1, ultimately coming through 5-7 7-6(4) 6-3.
Djokovic gets the job done
Djokovic, now world number four, was first on Centre Court to complete his second-round match which briefly began on Tuesday.
Pospisil was an apt first test for the Serb given he has already acclimatised himself to the grass this year and after a wobble in the first game on Tuesday – where he had to save two break points – he managed to knuckle down on his serve on Wednesday, before landing the decisive blow with a break of serve in the 10th game of the first set.
The Canadian was presented with another chance in the fifth game of the second set, but failed to make good of it as Djokovic held and then promptly broke in the next for a 4-2 lead. He then closed out the match three games later, converting on his second match.
Djokovic was in typically jovial mood after the contest, but spoke of how he finds it “good” that there is – at least perceived – less expectation on him for Wimbledon next week.
“For a change it’s good to not be one of the top favourites. It is liberating a bit, it releases a bit of the pressure,” he said.
“But the pressure is always there, you still feel it. It’s part of who I am, what I do. I try to lower them [expectations] as much as I can. In this stage of my life and career, it’s trying to focus only on what comes up next, which doesn’t mean that I don’t want to win the trophies and so forth,” added Djokovic.
Djokovic will face American Donald Young in the quarter-finals on Thursday after the latter knocked out countryman Jared Donaldson with a 6-4 7-5 win.
Tiafoe falls short
Tiafoe often looked prime for a breakthrough win over Frenchman Gasquet, especially after moving up 7-5 2-0 on a misfiring and occasionally irritated opponent.
However, he opened the door by dropping serve straight after breaking, and despite forging opportunities in the back end of the set, he froze at big moments – missing two break points to go 5-3 clear and slipping from a 30-0 advantage on Gasquet’s serve as he tried to stay in the match.
Gasquet won the tiebreak 7-4 and doubled the pain soon after, breaking the Tiafoe serve to 15 to establish an immediate two-game lead. To the American’s credit he dug in and forced Gasquet to serve it out – saving a match point at 2-5 – but the world number 27 did, and Tiafoe will be left to rue his chances.
Mischa Zverev moved through with a 6-4 7-6(9) victory over Ryan Harrison, while Daniil Medvedev thwarted big-serving Sam Querrey, prevailing 6-3 7-5.
Caroline Wozniacki fought past Naomi Osaka 6-2 7-6 on Court 2, and China’s Peng Shuai won a topsy-turvy three-set match with Timea Bacsinszky. But Spain’s Garbine Muguruza suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of an impressive Barbora Strycova, winning just one game in a 6-1 6-0 rout.
Men’s 2nd round:
Dusan Lajovic def. Jeremy Chardy 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3
Thomas Fabbiano def. Franko Skugor 7-6(5) 6-4
Women’s 2nd round:
Tsvetana Pironkova def. Monica Niculescu 6-0 6-4
Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Mona Barthel 4-6 7-5 6-2
Elena Vesnina def. Veronica Cepede Royg 6-3 6-3
Kristina Mladenovic def. Zhang Shuai 6-0 6-4
With rain playing spoiler again, it’s another packed schedule on Thursday, with a few players set to have to compete twice again.
First on Centre are Gael Monfils and Cameron Norrie (Monfils leads 6-3 2-0) to finish their second round match, after which Djokovic and Young will take to the court. Ostapenko and Konta unsurprisingly keep Centre Court billing for the third match of the afternoon.
On Court 1, Steve Johnson will look to finish off Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano from 6-3 2-2 before Wozniacki plays Elena Vesnina. Kerber then faces Lara Arruabarrena with the prospect of taking on Ostapenko or Konta later in the day – the match is provisionally scheduled for Court 1, although it could potentially move to Centre.
Dusan Lajovic and John Isner will complete their match on Court 2, with Kristina Mladenovic v Svetlana Kuznetsova to follow. As the day draws to a close, the yet-to-be-confirmed women’s and men’s quarter-finals will take place.
Halep and Pironkova will finish on Court 4 after Kevin Anderson and Gasquet play their second rounder. Wildcard Heather Watson versus Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is also on that court as a last 16 match.
Play is due to get under way on all courts at 10.30am local time.