Getty Images

Djokovic ready for Wimbledon despite Queen’s final defeat

Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Less than a month after casting doubt over his participation at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic is heading for the tournament as a genuine title contender.

Despite coming up just short in a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 loss to Marin Cilic in the Queen’s Club final on Sunday, Djokovic produced one of his best performances since missing the second half of 2017 with an elbow injury.

Cilic saved a match point at 4-5 in the second set and then won six consecutive points from 4-1 down in the tiebreaker to level, before going on to win his second title at the Wimbledon warmup.

Djokovic was left in far more optimistic mood than when he came off the court after a French Open quarterfinal defeat to Marco Cecchinato on June 5.

“Well, I’m there,” said Djokovic, when asked if he’s back to top form, singling out his earlier win against Grigor Dimitrov “in straight sets, all straight sets until today … all in all, I think that the level of my tennis has been as good as it has been the last 12 months.”

Djokovic appeared untouchable when completing his career Grand Slam at the 2016 French Open, but his only major final since then came at the U.S. Open later that season.

After struggling through the first half of 2017, with his only titles coming at smaller events in Doha and Eastbourne, the 12-time Grand Slam champion took six months off following Wimbledon due to a right elbow injury.

A fourth-round exit at the Australian Open on his return was followed by early defeats at Indian Wells and Miami. There were signs of improvement on clay as Djokovic reached the semifinals in Rome, but his ranking dropped to 22 following a crushing defeat to the unseeded Cecchinato in Paris.

Despite a tough draw on the grass courts of Queen’s Club, Djokovic reached the final without dropping a set.

“I think that most importantly for him he showed consistent level of play during all week, even against Dimitrov, even yesterday against Chardy. Today he was serving great,” Cilic said of Djokovic.

“So definitely he’s going to be one of the contenders to win (Wimbledon). Looking from the side and also playing him … I feel that he’s playing great tennis.”

But there’s one person who doesn’t appear so optimistic.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a contender … for a trophy or anything like that,” Djokovic said, basing that view on his results for the last 12 months. “I have to keep my expectations, you know, very low.”

Nadal beats Ferrer to reach Barcelona Open quarterfinals

AP Photo
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain — Rafael Nadal looked closer to his clay-court best again as he beat David Ferrer 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open.

The 11-time Barcelona champion saved four of five break points and broke four times in what could have been his last meeting with Ferrer, who is retiring after the Madrid Open next month. It was a sign of improvement for Nadal, who lost in the semifinals in Monte Carlo last week and then needed three sets to get past Leonard Mayer in his opening match in Barcelona.

“This match was important for me,” Nadal said. “Yesterday I had a tough match. I took a step forward and was able to play with more energy.”

The top-seeded Nadal will next face either Stefanos Tsitsipas, last year’s runner-up, or Jan-Lennard Struff.

Nadal was up 5-3 in the first set before play was stopped for a rain delay. He continued to dictate the match when play resumed, serving out the set and breaking Ferrer’s next service game.

Ferrer saved three match points before finally sending a forehand into the net to give Nadal the win.

The 37-year-old Ferrer was making his last appearance at the Barcelona Open and could not hold back the tears when he received an ovation from the audience. He placed his pink headband on the court as a mark that he had played his last match here.

“I am happy to be able to finish this tournament on the center court, playing against Nadal. I gave it my all,” Ferrer said.

Also, third-seeded Dominic Thiem broke Jaume Munar five times to earn a 7-5, 6-1 victory. Fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2015, brushed off Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-1, 6-3.

Grigor Dimitrov was beaten 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) by Nicolas Jarry, who will meet Daniil Medvedev after he beat American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Osaka opens clay campaign by beating Hsieh in Stuttgart

Getty Images
Leave a comment

STUTTGART, Germany — Top-ranked Naomi Osaka opened her clay-court season by beating Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan 6-4, 6-3, on Thursday to reach the Porsche Grand Prix quarterfinals.

Osaka hit 22 winners and converted three of her six break points to seal the win in 1 hour, 24 minutes and set up a meeting with Donna Vekic of Croatia.

After saving two break points early, it was an unusually smooth victory for Osaka over Hsieh. She needed three sets to get past the Taiwanese veteran en route to her Australian Open victory and then lost to her at the Miami Open last month.

“I felt like this surface is more suited for me (than Hsieh),” Osaka said. “I was sort of in my plan. So, I just felt like I executed what I was trying to do.”

Two-time Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber also advanced by beating fellow German Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-4. The fifth-seeded Kerber saved two break points to hold for 2-2 in the first set and then reeled off the next four games to take control. She then earned a decisive break for 4-3 in the second before closing out the win with her fourth match point.

Kerber will face sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens, who served 20 aces to rally for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Belinda Bencic.

No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova also advanced by beating former champion Laura Siegemund of Germany 6-4, 6-3 to set up a quarterfinal against Petra Kvitova, who advanced on Wednesday.

Vekic dispatched Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, 6-1, 7-5, earlier on Thursday.