There was some excitement at the ATP 250 level event at the Aegon International in Eastbourne when three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic accepted a wildcard at the last remaining warm-up grass court event ahead of SW19. The Serb ended a title drought of six months as he defeated second seed Gael Monfils for the 14th successive time, and won his 68th career title.
The Serb has struggled for form since completing the Career Grand Slam at the French Open last year. Nonetheless, the 12-time Grand Slam champion is heading into Wimbledon as the second seed, despite being ranked at number four in the world. The 30-year-old is the fourth favourite to win Wimbledon but he will certainly be a dangerous threat at SW19. Djokovic wanted to get some grass court matches ahead of Wimbledon, and it was the first time since 2010, that he participated at a grass court event between Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
The former world number one was flawless throughout the tournament at Devonshire Park as he didn't drop a set, and he held two set points in his quarterfinal clash with Donald Young.
Djokovic cruises to take the first set
The three-time Wimbledon champion got off to a dream start in his 98th career final, as he broke Monfils' serve to get an immediate break by virtue of a double fault from the second seed's racquet. The former world number one consolidated the break with an easy hold of serve to lead 2-0.
The charismatic Frenchman would have wanted to have had an easier service game in the opening game of the match but he did nevertheless in his next service game sending down a couple of aces. Moreover, the world number four had a few problems on his serve by being taken to deuce by Monfils. Furthermore, Djokovic remained in control and stretched out his lead to 3-1.
In one of the longest rallies of the match, the second seed came out on top in a 22-shot rally which entertained the crowd, and in some periods of the match, the two-time Grand Slam semifinalist continued to go on his haunches. Monfils crucially held onto his serve by producing an ace down the T.
The former world number one had no problems on his serve, stretching out to a 4-2 lead with a hold to love. Monfils continued to struggle on his serve, as the 12-time Grand Slam created two more break points by coming out on top in a lengthy baseline rally, finishing off the point with his trademark backhand drop shot winner. However, the former top ten player staved off two break points, and Djokovic created another one but Monfils saved it and finished off the game with an ace out wide.
Djokovic held onto his serve and forced the second seed to serve to stay in the opening set. The Frenchman struggled as Djokovic swung freely as he produced a stunning half-volley winner on the
stretch. He created two set points, and he broke Monfils' serve with a good return of serve, forcing another error from Monfils, taking the first set 6-3.
The former world number one wins his first grass court title outside of Wimbledon
Breaking at the end of the first set was crucial for the 30-year-old Serb as he had the privilege of serving first in the second set as Monfils had to play catch up. Nonetheless, that advantage was almost wiped out as the world number 16 created two break points but the Serb saved them and finished them off with two back-to-back half volleys to lead 1-0.
Monfils' serving improved in the second set as he held onto his serve easily to restore parity at 1-1. He continued to threaten on Djokovic's serve by producing a thunderous forehand winner down the line to race out to a 0-30 lead. However, he would have gained two break points on Djokovic's serve had the Serb's running forehand winner down the line, didn't go over the net by virtue of the net cord. Both players shook hands at the net as a mark of respect.
Once again, Monfils held serve with ease, and the former world number one was struggling on his serve in the second set. He played a terrible game by committing unforced errors and a double fault. Monfils was unable to convert another break point chance but Djokovic played the important points well by serving big.
Both players held easily onto serve easily as they were getting to the business end of the second set. Monfils continued to display sublime tennis on his serve by remaining aggressive and producing stunning forehand winners down the line.
The title was within the three-time Wimbledon champion's grasp as his lethal one-two combination of the serve down the middle, and forehand down the line caused problems for Monfils. The Serb gained a helping hand as Monfils committed more unforced errors, and the Frenchman had to serve to stay in the match.
Despite, trailing 15-30, the former world number one could have had two championship points in his pocket had Monfils not challenged, a stunning forehand down the line, which was in. However, it was in vain as the top seed create a first championship point as Monfils committed another unforced error, and the Serb's good return of serve forced the second seed to commit another unforced error, which handed Djokovic his first grass court title outside of Wimbledon.
It was the perfect preparation for Djokovic heading into Wimbledon as he looks to win his 13th Grand Slam singles title and fourth at SW19.