The Aegon International Eastbourne comes to a thrilling conclusion today (1 July).
Karolina Pliskova [CZE] will be taking on Caroline Wozniacki [DEN] in the women’s singles final, Novak Djokovic [SRB] faces Gael Monfils [FRA] in the men’s final, and Casey Dellacqua [AUS] and Ash Barty [AUS] battling it out with Yung-Jan Chan [TPE] and Martina Hingis [SUI] in the women’s doubles final.
Wozniacki, was made to work for her place in Saturday’s finale, the 2009 Eastbourne champion battling through a tough contest against Britain’s Heather Watson 6-2 3-6 7-5. By contrast, Pliskova will be well-rested on Saturday after Johanna Konta forfeited their semifinal due to a thoracic spine injury.
Wozniacki and Pliskova have played five times previously, each time on hard courts, with Wozniacki leading their rivalry 4-1. They are a win apiece in 2017, Pliskova winning the Doha final comfortably 6-3 6-4, Wozniacki staging a big comeback in the semifinals at that Miami Masters to triumph 6-1 6-1.
The pair’s first battle on grass promises to be an intriguing one as Pliskova’s powerful serve is sure to be a dangerous weapon on the Devonshire Park lawns and Wozniacki will have to use all her tactical nous and court speed to counter the Czech’s power.
Wozniacki said the walkover Pliskova received in the semifinals could benefit the Czech, “I have played eight sets in a day-and-a-half. That’s a lot of tennis. So definitely it’s an advantage for her to be able to rest and just do her normal routine.
“She’ll definitely be feeling fresh compared to me, but at the same time I’m pleased to have gotten a great match in today. I feel very happy and good on the grass.”
Pliskova acknowledged she will head into today’s final the fresher of the pair. “Not having to play today is definitely a big help,” said Pliskova. “I’ve never faced Wozniacki on grass. A few times on the other surfaces, but on grass will be the first time. We played this year already twice, so I’m expecting a tough battle in the final."
This second final on Centre Court, sees tournament top seed Djokovic take on No.2 seed Monfils in what could be a tall order for the Frenchman who trails world No.4 Djokovic 0-13 in their head-to head.
Djokovic booked his place in today’s final with a straight sets victory over Next Gen star Daniil Medvedev [RUS] – a contest that was not quite as straightforward as the score line might suggest. The 21-year-old Russian played with style and athleticism, winning some brilliant individual points but not quite stringing the winners together. Djokovic, by contrast, was in commanding mood and looked comfortable with the exception of the opening game, which saw Medvedev take a forty-love lead only to be hauled back remorselessly to deuce by Djokovic, who then broke, and then held his own serve to love. Daniil was still feeling for his range and rhythm, Novak had found his instantly.
But two swift games don’t define a match. Medvedev, admirably going for his shots, held his next service game and then, in a game of some very tight line calls, he broke Djokovic to level at 2-2. Games went with serve, Novak fighting off four deuces to hold the eighth game and then he broke for 5-4 and served out the first set.
The second set took a similar course, with a distance between the players but no vast gulf. This time, however, Djokovic achieved his single break in the first game of the set and, like the racing driver with an early lead, needed just to glance over his shoulder to keep his pursuer at bay. The contest never lacked competitiveness, and Medvedev was doing his mightiest to wrest back the initiative – but undermined by a failure to close out some crucial points. On the first point of the eighth game, the Russian expertly created his opening, dragging Djokovic wide to expose the whole court, and then smashed his final shot too long.
As Djokovic practised his full repertoire of shots, Medvedev battled bravely, but he could not find a chink in the Serbian’s armour. In one absolutely glorious rally, all pinging volleys and incredible retrievals, he conjured a brilliant, outrageous shot through the legs, but still lost the point. And in the battle of the big servers, some of Djokovic’s first serves were touching 125mph and one of Medvedev’s reached 128mph – but didn’t win the point. It's tough against the top.
The capacity Centre Court crowd was creased with laughter at 4-3 as Djokovic’s attempts at a big serve were hampered by one noisy seagull’s attempts at a big swoop. “We hear you!!” shouted the No.1 seed; but Eastbourne’s gulls are no respecters of fame or reputation…
But in the end, there was a match to be won, and the entertainment never subverted the expertise. Serving at 3-5, Medvedev saved one match point and hung in to win the game. But Djokovic was not to be denied, and successfully served out the match 6-4 6-4.
You could count the vacant seats on two hands, as the Centre Court crowd settled for the next chapter of Djokovic’s Eastbourne adventure. The Serbian is not short of friends and admirers, and Eastbourne fans have been delighted by his genial manner, his superb tennis, and his warm remarks about the town and the tournament this week.
Djokovic was full of praise for his opponent following the match. “He's one of the NextGen group of players that plays very well and has a promising future,” His game is quite fitting for this surface. He has very flat, very quick shots off the ground. Especially, He's very confident from the backhand corner, moves well for his size and height, and obviously the serve is a big weapon. If he serves consistently well and accurate, he can pose a big challenge to any player on this surface.
And Djokovic said he was happy with the way he was playing on grass ahead of Wimbledon. “It was a close first set. He had a couple of break points and 4-3 could have gone different way in the first set and maybe changed, you know, the dynamic of the match, but I think winning that first set and playing well at the end of the first set has kind of put me in the position where, you know, I'm taking the momentum away from him.
“I did struggle a little bit with my serve today and wasn't as accurate as it was in the first two matches, but also, that's due to his quality of return. In all, it was a really tough match. Straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, but it took a lot of work and energy to break the resistance.”
In the second men’s semi-final Djokovic’s fellow Eastbourne debutante, Monfils had to fight to secure his place in the Aegon International Eastbourne final. Monfils looked convincing in the opening set of the match against fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet, and kept his nose ahead for much of the second. But a Monfils tumble and medical time out in the latter stages of the set allowed Gasquet back into the match via a tiebreak. The third set was equally close but ultimately world No.15 Monfils’ creativity on the grass courts edged him past his compatriot and into the final, 6-2 6-7(7) 7-6(4).
“It’s going to be a good match and I really hope to be able to give 100 per cent,” said Monfils after his semi-final win. “I will have to try to be aggressive if I want to beat Novak tomorrow.”
The first title of the 2017 Aegon International Eastbourne was awarded on Friday, the Bryan Brothers defeating Rohan Bopanna [IND] and Andre Sa [BRA] 6-7(4) 6-4 10-3.
Play at Devonshire Park is scheduled to start at 12.15pm with the women’s singles final, followed by the men’s singles final (not before 2pm) with the women’s doubles final rounding out the 2017 Aegon International Eastbourne action.