Aegon Open: Edmund Defeated Whilst Johnson Impresses

Edmund defeated by Dolgopolov, Johnson sweeps aside Millman and Evans triumphs over Berankis; it’s all in the Aegon Open Day 4 review. Plus: Dan Evans on his quest to find a wet shave.

Marcos Baghdatis’ result can also be found.

Kyle Edmund vs. Alexandr Dolgopolov

Kyle Edmund took to Court Two of the Aegon Open on Tuesday in a hotly anticipated clash with Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov. Edmund put out a stunning display against Andy Murray at the Queen’s Club, and in a press conference on Monday night, the 21-year-old was brimming with ambition for what lay ahead of him. “It’ll be difficult,” he said. “But I feel I’m playing well, I’m feeling confident. First of all I look to play my game and get my game on court first. I come into every tournament wanting to win it.”

However, as is so often the case with Dolgopolov, events did not quite unfold according to the script, and the World #32 cut British tennis’ Edmund-hysteria short with a 6-4 7-6(5) victory. Edmund had alluded to his opponent’s irregularities and unpredictable shot-making, and it was that element of the fourth seed’s game that so disturbed the young Brit’s rhythm. From the outset, Dolgopolov made full use of his repertoire, shovelling flat backhands towards the baseline before exploiting Edmund’s retreated position with short slices that clung to the turf. These shot combinations made for a match on the Ukrainian’s terms, often preventing Edmund from winding up his forehand and dictating play as he had against Rosol on Monday.

Nevertheless, only one early break separated the two players in the first set. The second proved even tighter, ultimately being decided by a single mini-break in the ensuing tiebreak at 6-6. It was a display that certainly didn’t leave Edmund cause to be disheartened. But as the 21 year old’s defiant words on Monday suggest, perhaps more tactical consideration needs to be given to a player like Dolgopolov. Edmund was ultimately never able to get ‘his game’ on court first.

Steve Johnson vs. John Millman

With the rise of Jack Sock and more recently Taylor Fritz, Steve Johnson is an American who often slips under the radar. Yet as the grass court season progresses, the World #38 is building up an impressive run of form. On the grass of Queen’s came his first top 10 scalp, over Frenchman Richard Gasquet. Johnson made savvy use of his slice in the moist conditions; that shot was equally influential in his routine 6-2 6-2 victory on Tuesday over Australia’s John Millman.

Millman first burst onto the scene at Wimbledon last year. However, on the grass of Nottingham, Johnson proved to have far too much shrewdness and firepower for the Australian. At 1-1, Johnson got his first break; it was a microcosm of the whole match, with Johnson pushing Millman wide on his backhand side, before delivering the lethal blow with his fiercely whipped inside in forehand into the opposite corner. The shrewdness in the American’s game came in the form of his carefully timed forays into the net. If Johnson’s serve was the base of his attacking play, his volleys were the finishing touches. In spite of Millman’s tireless efforts, Johnson had his opponent comprehensively penned in; he sealed the set 6-2 with an ace.

The second set unfolded rather similarly. At 1-1, Johnson clinched the first break again. The American’s deep slice into Millman’s backhand corner continued to trouble the Australian, being only able to reply with rather tame backhands into central mid court. Needless to say, these were eaten up hungrily by the world #38’s imperious forehand. But whilst Johnson’s greatest ally lies in that forehand, his greatest weakness also lingers there too. In being so eager to move round onto his forehand, the American often left the far corner of that flank exposed. Millman exploited it a few times; better players will surely do so with greater frequency.

Whenever Johnson was faced with difficulty on serve, the immediate response was invariably a string of crushing aces. Subsequently, the 26-year-old’s serve remained untroubled throughout the second set. Johnson in fact didn’t face a single break point in the whole match. He looks a serious contender at this year’s Aegon Open.

Johnson’s fellow countrymen Sam Querrey and Ernesto Escobedo were also in action against each other. Runner-up in the Aegon Open last year, Querrey dispatched his compatriot 6-4 6-4 in routine fashion. “I’m ready for Wimbledon, I’m confident, I’m playing well,” Querrey said post-match. “Regardless of how I do here I think I’ll be confident, ready to go for Wimbledon.” One of the first matches on court, Querrey was able to finish his work and arrive at his press conference by just 12:30. Such rapidity to proceedings will have guaranteed the #5 seed ample time to recuperate. He’ll certainly need to have his energy levels up for Round 3, where he will face the vivacious Marcos Baghdatis.

Dan Evans vs. Ricardas Berankis

Dan Evans defeated Ricardas Berankis 2-6 7-6(3) 6-2. The Briton had competed in Manchester, Surbiton and Queen’s in recent weeks but at the reward of just one win. With Wimbledon under a week away, Evans conceded that he felt some pressure to find form on the grass at Nottingham. “I was playing pretty well in all the events, I just wasn’t winning. It doesn’t matter how well you’re playing if you’re not winning,” he said candidly. “It does get you down a little bit. That’s maybe why I was a bit nervous against [Liam] Broady [in Round One].”

When presented with the stat that his win on Nottingham’s Centre Court took him the furthest he had been in an ATP tour event for over two years, Evans was his usual dry self. “I’ve only played like one ATP tour event,” he replied. “It’s pretty tough to do anything if you’re not in the tournament.”

Throughout his 10 year career, Evans has attracted criticism for lacking desire. But after a difficult first set, his rousing fightback on Tuesday displayed quite the contrary.

He also certainly cannot be accused of straying from the job at hand with off-court antics, as has been the case in the past. When asked if he’d had any down time in the city, Evans simply said: “Not really. I looked round for a wet shave the other morning and couldn’t find one. That was about it.”

At 5-6 in the second set, Berankis staved off two Evans set points. But the Brit regrouped and took the tiebreak convincingly. With the momentum firmly behind him, Evans pushed on and swept aside his Lithuanian opponent in the deciding set, sealing the world #95 a valuable win. Even the typically self-effacing Evans let on a bit of optimism. “Getting over the line there [against Liam Broady] and getting over the line again today in a tough one will hopefully stand me in good stead for tomorrow and obviously next week,” he said.

And the rest…

The tournament’s top two seeds were also in action in the latter stages of the day’s play. First seed Kevin Anderson defeated Ivan Dodig 6-3 6-7(5) 6-3. The South African only had five tour-level wins in 2016 going into this match, and after a comfortable first set, Anderson began to exhibit the nerves that inevitably accompany such dismal form. But his formidable grass court record soon began to show, and the tournament’s top seed prevailed. #2 seed Pablo Cuevas meanwhile defeated Stephane Robert in two tight sets, 6-4 7-6(3). In spite of his high seeding, it is hard to see the clay court specialist mounting a serious vow for the Aegon Open title. Cuevas faces crowd favourite Dan Evans in the last 16.

Despite upsetting Stan Wawrinka at Queen’s, Fernando Verdasco has had a largely underwhelming 2016 campaign; so he shared a similar goal to Anderson insofar that Nottingham was an opportunity for redemption. And that goal appeared a realistic one after set one versus Victor Estrella Burgos, with the Spaniard having swept aside his opponent 6-1. Yet Verdasco was quickly pegged back, with Estrella Burgos securing the second set 6-4. In the decider however, Verdasco quickly reasserted the status quo. His groundstrokes had had far superior firepower and penetration on the grass throughout the match, even in the second set. It was just a matter of recapturing his consistency. Once again Estrella Burgos was overwhelmed, and Verdasco fittingly sealed victory with a stinging first serve and forehand, sending his opponent scuttling to his backhand corner in vein. Estrella Burgos cried in anguish as his final shot fell short of the net; the Dominican certainly has cause to rue some missed chances. And at 35 years old, this grass court season could be one of his last at the top level. Verdasco will play Kevin Anderson on Centre Court on Wednesday afternoon.

Vasek Pospisil was victorious over Damian Dzumhur, defeating Denis Istomin’s conqueror 6-1 6-4. And after being within just points of victory, Mikhail Kukushkin was defeated by Frank Dancevic 6-4 6-7(4) 6-7(2). Pospisil will face Steve Johnson, whilst Dancevic clashes with Dolgopolov.

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