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Tennis round-up: Cilic gives Nadal reality check

Last updated on: June 27, 2019 16:17 IST

Marin Cilic serves during his match against Rafael Nadal at the Aspall Tennis Classic in London on Wednesday

IMAGE: Marin Cilic serves during his match against Rafael Nadal at the Aspall Tennis Classic in London on Wednesday. Photograph: Aspall Tennis Classic/Twitter

Spaniard Rafael Nadal got a quickfire reminder of the challenge he faces to win a third Wimbledon title as he was blown away by big-serving Marin Cilic in an exhibition match on Wednesday.

Nadal, who turned 33 this month, has opted not to play any competitive tournaments on grass ahead of the Championships, practising instead at home on grass in Mallorca.

 

He lacked sharpness at the Hurlingham Club in London as a well-drilled Cilic sent him packing in less than an hour -- a sweating Nadal going straight from court to a waiting black Rolls Royce and away minutes after his 6-3, 6-3 defeat.

"This was the first time that I played points and that was too much for me today," Nadal, who won a record-extending 12th French Open title earlier this month, said on court at the Aspall Tennis Classic alongside the Thames.

"I'm excited to be back at Wimbledon. This type of match today helps to try to be ready. Of course I decided not to play a tournament before Wimbledon, I'm 33 so I need to save energy.

"I will just try to improve a little bit every single day and on Friday I have will try to be a bit better."

Nadal, who won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, reached the semi-final last year at the All England Club but had struggled in his previous five appearances at the event.

That was reflected in Wednesday's seedings which put Nadal, the world number two, at three, behind eight-time champion Roger Federer who was bumped up one place from his ranking.

Cilic benefited from Wimbledon's unique seeding system and will be 13th -- up five from his ATP ranking of 18.

While Wednesday's match was not an official one he showed exactly why he will be a threat with his hefty serve and forehand giving Nadal little opportunity to get his teeth into any rallies longer than three or four strokes.

Nadal has been critical of Wimbledon's seeding reflecting grasscourt results for the past two years, but Cilic, runner-up in 2017, was certainly not complaining.

"I think they have been doing it for years," he told Reuters.

"I've moved into the 13 to 16 group so that definitely helps me avoid higher seeds before the fourth round.

"There are positives and negatives about it. The grass is not as it was in the past when the claycourters struggled to go through one or two rounds at Wimbledon, it's more playable.

"If you see the top 32 these days they all play well on every surface so I guess you could just stay with the rankings."

Nadal will practise at Wimbledon on Thursday before returning to Hurlingham for another match on Friday.

Son of Borg makes quiet debut in Aspall grass court

A blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swede named Borg was in action on a London grasscourt on Wednesday although it went almost unnoticed at the Hurlingham Club where all eyes were on Rafael Nadal.

Forty six years after Bjorn Borg caused mass hysteria by reaching the quarter-finals on his Wimbledon debut, his 15-year-old son Leo played a junior match in front of a handful of spectators at the Aspall Tennis Classic.

The resemblance to his five-times Wimbledon-winning father was striking and despite a 6-2, 6-3 defeat by David Ionel, the young Borg, Sweden's Under-16 champion, showed promise.

He will not be following in his "tennis rock star" father's footsteps yet, though, as his junior world ranking of 352 means he is not eligible to play at the Wimbledon junior event.

Whether he will ever become a Tour professional is uncertain, but Leo has already copied his father, if only on film.

As a 12-year-old he successfully auditioned for a tennis film by Danish director Janus Metz -- and ended up playing his young dad in the movie "Borg v McEnroe".

Wozniacki out as Kerber, Pliskova, Halep win in Eastbourne

Three former world number ones reached the quarter-finals of the Eastbourne championships but a fourth, defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, fell short as she was beaten by eighth seed Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday.

Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova all sharpened their grasscourt games ahead of Wimbledon.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Kerber beat Swede Rebecca Peterson 7-6(4), 6-0 and Pliskova crushed Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-2, although Halep was pushed hard by Polona Hercog before emerging with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

In a repeat of last year's final, Wozniacki lost 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in a fierce battle with Sabalenka who fought back from 5-2 down in the third set, saving a match point, on the way.

Sabalenka crunched 40 winners to Wozniacki's 21 as she claimed a first win against a top-20 player this year, avenging last year's loss in the DevonshirePark final.

She will face third seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands next after she bet Anna-Lena Friedsam in straight sets.

German let-hander Kerber continued to thrive on the grass after a tricky claycourt season as she blazed past Peterson following a tough first set.

The fourth seed saved two set points in the opener but eased through the second with a dominant display.

"I'm feeling good so far," Kerber told reporters.

"The first set was really close and tough. Then I started good in the second set and finding then my rhythm even better in the second set, so it was a good match."

She will face Halep next after the Romanian was made to work hard by the powerful Hercog.

Pliskova, who reached the Eastbourne final in 2016 and 2017, was brutal against Mertens with her power game in full flow.

"I felt like, it's bad to say, but there was no chance that I was going to lose today," she said. "I just felt super confident after I made the quick break in the first set."

Jelena Ostapenko, a semi-finalist at last year's Wimbledon, suffered an injury scare as she retired in her match against Ekaterina Alexandrova who moves on to play Pliskova.

There was an upset, however, as local favourite Johanna Konta was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by Tunisia's Ons Jabeur.

Unseeded Jabeur was far too tricky for world number 19 Konta as she reached her first quarter-final of the year.

She will play France's Alize Cornet for a place in the semis after she comfortably beat Zhang Shuai of China. 

Fed Cup gets revamp with 12-nation Finals in Budapest in 2020

The Fed Cup's existing format will be scrapped next year when a 12-nation Finals week will be staged in Budapest in April, the International Tennis Federation confirmed on Thursday.

The move follows a revamp of the men's Davis Cup which will culminate in an 18-nation event in Madrid in November.

At a news conference held at Queen's Club it was confirmed that Budapest would host the event until 2022.

There will be an $18 million prize fund for the Finals, which will be played on clay.

Four nations, this year's finalists France and Australia, hosts Hungary and one wildcard, will be exempted through to the Finals with the other eight coming through playoffs in February.

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