Eastbourne Tennis: Djokovic first up on centre court as stars come out to play

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

A certain Novak Djokovic will get the action started on centre court today as the stars come out to play on Ladies Day at the Aegon International Eastbourne.

Tournament top seed Angelique Kerber and Eastbourne’s Jo Konta will also get their campaigns underway in what promises to be a fine day of tennis action - weather permitting.

World No.4 Djokovic will make his debut at Devonshire Park taking on Vasek Pospisil in a match scheduled to start at 11am. He said he was looking forward to taking to the court in front of local fans who have turned out in force to welcome the 12-time Grand Slam champion to Devonshire Park this week. “We have more or less the same schedule each year over and over again, so it’s great to be in Eastbourne for the first time,” said Djokovic. “It’s a small town, but being part of the combined event, there is a lot of matches, a lot of people coming out to watch and support the players. You can feel the appreciation for the tennis that they have here. They love this event, and so for me it’s obviously a pleasure to be here.”

Wildcard and world No.1 Kerber is second on Centre Court on Tuesday facing Kristyna Pliskova. The German will be playing her first grass court match since she reached the final at Wimbledon last year. “I’m happy to being on grass again, and I’m happy that the clay court season is already finished,” said Kerber. “This is (about) having a lot of matches and feeling the grass again. That’s why I decide to take the wildcard, I’m really thankful for that.”

Third match on Centre Court on Tuesday sees hometown favourite and No.5 seed Johanna Konta take on Sorana Cirstea. “I’m feeling really good, I’m healthy, I’m enjoying playing (and) I’m enjoying trying to get as many matches as possible heading into Wimbledon,” said the British No.1. “I’m enjoying the grass. I’m enjoying trying to figure out how to play better on it, how to adapt to it well, and just continuing to work on getting better. I’m here in Eastbourne (and) I definitely want to stay here as long as possible.”

Fans on Court 1 will also enjoy a bumper line-up on Tuesday, No.2 seed Simona Halep taking on Ying-Ying Duan [CHN], Daniil Medvedev playing No.5 seed Sam Querrey, No.7 seed Richard Gasquet facing off against Frances Tiafoe and No.6 seed Caroline Wozniacki playing Naomi Osaka.

Bright sunshine, little wind, and a full house saw Devonshire Park at its splendid best on Monday. First on Centre Court, Kyle Edmund flew the flag as the last remaining British men’s singles representative. Donald Young took the opening set but with little to choose between the two men, Edmond claimed the second on a single break of serve, before Young narrowly took the deciding set, before a warmly appreciative home crowd, progressing 6-4 3-6 6-3.

Meanwhile, Naomi Broady carried British hopes on Court One. She faced a tough opponent in Kristyna Pliskova the world No.44 getting into her stride early to break in the third game of the first set, and then again in the seventh. The set decider was a superb game, Naomi fighting back from 0-30 to 40-30, but Pliskova pulled out two sweet passing shots to take the game and the set. It was nip and tuck throughout the second set, Broady levelling in a tense tie-break, but Pliskova surged clear in the third to win 6-2 6-7(7) 6-1.

Match of the day was reserved British No.2 Heather Watson who dispatched defending champion Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova seemed keen to take the initiative but Watson defended well throughout, and several key moments went her way. It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for the packed Centre Court crowd as Watson edged the first set, before serving at 5-2 for the match. The British woman dropped her serve and had to gear herself up for a final push to the third round. The Devonshire Park fans gave Watson their trademark rousing reception when she clinched the match 7-5 6-4.

Duan has already turned a few heads this week, particularly with her epic three-set qualifying win over Britain’s Katy Dunne, and her fast, direct game might still upset a seed or two if she goes deeper into the draw. She claimed the first set against Christina McHale today, before the American player was unfortunately forced to retire midway through the second, Duan progressing to the second round 6-3 4-0 ret. Lucky loser from qualifying, Sorana Cirstea, showed herself well worthy her main draw berth scoring a straight-sets victory over Katerina Siniakova 6-3 6-2. Another lucky loser, Risa Ozaki, enjoyed less good fortune, falling to compatriot Naomi Osaka 6-0 6-1, while Eugenie Bouchard bowed out to Barbora Strycova 6-3 3-6 6-2.

There was yet more drama to be played out before Day Four drew to a close, Cameron Norrie giving local enthusiasts more to cheer about when he defeated Horacio Zeballos 6-4 7-6(4). Elsewhere, Robin Haase beat Nicolas Mahut 6-4 7-6(4), Kevin Anderson overcame Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil 6-3 6-1 and Bernard Tomic beat Norbert Gombos 7-6(3) 6-3.