Djokovic passes first test at Eastbourne – Kerber survives

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EASTBOURNE, United Kingdom, June 28, (AFP): Top seed Novak Djokovic passed his first grass court test of the season on Wednesday, defeating Canadian qualifier Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals at Eastbourne.

The Serb is playing a pre-Wimbledon event for the first time since 2010 and will next face the winner from a pair of Americans, either Donald Young or Jared Donaldson.

The three-time Wimbledon champion got onto court after rain washed out Tuesday’s play — save one game in the Djokovic match — leaving organisers with a backlog to get through.

The former world number one claimed his fifth victory in as many attempts against Pospisil, who is now 4-22 lifetime against top 10 opponents.

“That was the first official grass court match for me this year,” Djokovic said. “I’m glad that I came here to Eastbourne. I have had a great couple of days of training with good players, different styles of game.

“It was a really, really solid win. I’m happy with it.”

Djokovic, who will be advised by Andre Agassi at Wimbledon, is the second-highest-ranked men’s player to ever compete at the Aegon International behind then-number two Marcelo Rios in 1998.

In the men’s first round, Russian Daniil Medvedev knocked out fifth seed Sam Querrey, beating the American 6-3, 7-5. German Mischa Zverev, seeed sixth, beat Ryan Harrison of the US 6-4, 7-6 (11/9).

On the women’s side, top-ranked Angelique Kerber recovered to beat Czech Kristyna Pliskova 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, as the German returned to action for the first time since her opening round defeat at the French Open.

Kerber is fighting to hold onto her number one ranking and withdrew from last week’s Birmingham event with a hamstring strain.

She trained in Mallorca after recovering from her injury but has yet to capture a title this year or beaten an opponent inside the top 20.

Roland Garros finalist Simona Halep, who trails Kerber by just 115 ranking points, rallied to defeat China’s Duan Ying-Ying 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, while Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova — a 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist — thumped Monica Niculescu of Romania 6-0, 6-4.

Two-time Grand Slam winner and seventh seed Svetlana Kuznetsova overcame German Mona Barthel 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 while France’s Kristina Mladenovic, seeded ninth, dusted aside China’s Zhang Shuai 6-0, 6-4.

Meanwhile, next year’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup finals will be staged together in Geneva as part of sweeping changes to the team tournaments, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced on Wednesday.

A new combined season-ending event, the World Cup of Tennis finals, will be the highlight of a series of historic reforms aimed at transforming the annual national team competitions.

The Swiss city was selected by the ITF board from a shortlist of six candidates across three continents that included Copenhagen, Istanbul, Miami, Turin and Wuhan.

The new format is due to start in November 2018 and run for a three-year period as the ITF looks to get the sport’s top players to commit to the tournaments on a regular basis in an already crammed tennis schedule.

“The creation of the World Cup of Tennis finals is at the heart of a series of reforms that represent the most significant changes in the history of Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas,” ITF president David Haggerty said in a statement.

“Change is needed to ensure that we maximise the full potential of these iconic and historic competitions. We’ve consulted widely and listened carefully, and believe we will deliver an exceptional new event for fans, players and nations.”

The ITF hopes the introduction of a pre-selected finals venue will enable it to mirror the successful models used by the UEFA Champions League and the NFL’s Super Bowl.

“By providing Geneva with a full year to organise and promote the event, it will be able to fully maximise the competition’s potential, elevating venue and hosting standards to a consistent Grand Slam level and delivering the very best athlete and fan experience,” added Hagerty.

“All six cities were highly capable and presented outstanding bids, and each would have been an excellent choice. In the end, the Board felt that Geneva offered the best conditions for hosting this exciting and innovative new event, and will deliver a truly world-class event.”

Earlier this month, organisers revealed Davis Cup matches will be played on a best-of-three-sets basis instead of the traditional five, with the ‘dead rubber’ policy also to be amended to reduce the number of meaningless matches.

Other changes will see the finalists in both the Davis Cup and Fed Cup guaranteed the choice of hosting their first-round tie in the following year.

The reforms are expected to be approved at the the next annual general meeting of the ITF in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in August.

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