Both Top Seeds Djokovic and Kerber through in Eastbourne

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The Day 6 schedule at the Aegon International in Eastbourne saw the top seeded players Novak Djokovic and Angelique Kerber both play their opening matches.

Both player’s seasons had not necessarily gone the way that they’d have expected for themselves. Kerber is backing up her best year on tour, where she won two majors – the Australian Open and the US Open – and two final appearances at Wimbledon and in the Olympics. The bar of expectation had risen considerably in the space of twelve months, she is no longer of interest in Germany alone, but also worldwide. That seems to have been a heavy burden on the shoulders of the World No.1

Djokovic at one stage held all four Grand Slams from 2015 at Wimbledon up to the 2016 Roland-Garros, but his consistency and superior results have disappeared into thin air. That’s why he’s made the decision to play Eastbourne because of the lack of matches he’s played all season and the early losses he’s experienced, which are uncharacteristic for the Serbian.

Djokovic’s secondround went really well, considering it was his first match back on grass, playing in a new environment at a new tournament. He faced a single break point in the first game of the match, but went on to hold. It took a single break in each set for the World No.4 to get the job done and he will be ever so delighted with the fact that he managed to remain unbroken all match on his first match in Eastbourne with the loss of just seven games against the Canadian.

The key areas in which Djokovic was looking better in his return game and fired back many returns with considerable interest, but he also looked more engaged in comparison to a lot of his other performances this season. Almost like he had a point to prove, not just to many outsiders, but also to himself, that he can climb to the top of the mountain once again. Let’s not forget, that he may be in a slump, but he’s still No.4 in the world.

Djokovic summarised his first match on grass: “Well, first official grass court match for me this year. As I was saying before, I haven’t had any lead up tournament to Wimbledon for seven years. Since 2010, actually, was the last year I played Queen’s. It was also due to lots of matches on the clay courts and first part of the season. I was fortunate to have lots of success in the first part of the year. But the schedule changed and we gained a week on grass. Today we kind of played a full match, so I’m glad for that. I felt good on the court, considering it’s the first match. I have played against an opponent that has a really good game for grass. Serves well, comes to the net, has a good variety. It was a really, really solid win. I’m happy with it.”

The Serbian is in a much different position to what he was last year. So one of the journalists questioned whether it was liberating to come into a grand slam as less of a favourite and Djokovic’s answer truly was interesting: “Yeah, in a way it is, to be honest. I was very fortunate and privileged to have so much success in the last eight, nine years, and kind of entered most of the tournaments as one of the biggest favourites to win it. So for a change it’s good to not be one of the top favourites. It releases a bit of pressure. It’s always there. I mean, you still feel it it’s part of who I am, what I do. And what I have achieved so far has added to those expectations from the people around. I try to lower those expectations myself.”

Djokovic was wary of the current phase of his career when focusing on his results of late and in the months to come: “In this stage of my life and career, in the moment and trying to focus on what comes up next, which doesn’t mean that I don’t want to win trophies and so forth. Of course I do. That’s why I’m playing professional tennis. But it’s just that I need to take things a bit slower and try to recalibrate so I can get to the level where I want to get.”

Kerber’s victory against a dangerous opponent in Kristyna Pliskova was slightly different to Djokovic’s win. The German plays her best tennis when she regularly reaches for her shots down the line and forces her opponent to cover more ground, but she took a set to find her range. Pliskova served immensely in the first set, taking it 6-4, but the Kerber fightback began in the second set, where she levelled the match for 6-1.

The pair traded breaks in the third and fourth game, but the course of the match changed at the end of the match. The Czech missed a plethora of easy sitting forehands and backhands halfway up the court to get broken to love in the eleventh game. A moment of pure madness halted the chance for her to pick up the biggest win of her career and then the struggling Kerber converted her first match point to win 7-5 in the 3rd set.

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