By Derren Howard
It turns out that eating a full dinner at 10pm after two tough tennis matches wasn’t the ideal preparation for a semi-final against Caroline Wozniacki.
Heather Watson, the British No 3, had advanced to the last four thanks to victories on Thursday against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and an energy-sapping three-setter versus world No 20 Barbora Strycova. But her encouraging run on the south coast was halted and ended British interest at Devonshire Park as she was beaten 6-2 3-6 7-5 by Wozniacki.
“I was a bit slow and heavy to the ball, making a lot of mistakes,” said the Briton ranked 126 after a disappointing year. “I didn’t finish dinner last night till 10pm. Once I was done with my match, physio, stretching, all that, so I think I felt a bit sluggish from the long day yesterday.”
Watson received a wildcard into the tournament and was bidding to become the first British player to reach the final of the Aegon International since 1976, when Virginia Wade lost to Chris Evert. It was a nervous start for the 25-year-old and she dropped her serve three times in the first set against the world No 6 from Denmark.
Watson, who reached the Eastbourne semi-final in 2014, fought back well to take the second but Wozniacki won a tight deciding set to secure her place in the final against world No 3 Karolina Pliskova, who had a walkover following the withdrawal of British No 1 Johanna Konta.
Watson was disappointed to bow out but encouraged that her form is improving ahead of Wimbledon, where she will face Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska, the world No 117, in the first round. “I’m feeling great about my game and got some great match wins under my belt. I’m feeling confident going into next week.”
Wozniacki, who played with a niggling abdominal injury that troubled her on serve, will contest her first grass court final since she won Eastbourne in 2009. She said: “Heather is a great player, we always have tough fights on court, I was pleased to finish it off. The final will be tough, she (Pliskova) didn’t play today so she will be well rested. Definitely it’s an advantage.”
World No 4 Novak Djokovic eased into the men’s final on his Eastbourne debut with an entertaining 6-4 6-4 triumph against hard-hitting young Russian Daniil Medvedev in one-hour 22 minutes.
The top seed is yet to drop a set at Devonshire Park and is one victory away from a first grass-court title since winning Wimbledon in 2015. Standing in his way will be world No 16 Gael Monfils who overcame Richard Gasquet 6-2 7-6 7-6 in an all French semi-final.
The 30-year-old Serb was the only player in the top 15 of the men’s draw and his most worrying moments so far this week came from the town’s seagulls. They swooped Djokovic on court and at 4-3 in the second he shouted: “Okay, I hear you.” as they squawked above centre court.
“I actually quite like the seagulls. I faced timed my son on my hotel balcony and the seagulls were included,” joked Djokovic. “I could not be happier to reach the final. I was hoping to do well but this is the dream result. I can fight for the trophy and I hope to perform.”
At Wimbledon Djokovic is scheduled to play world No 44 Martin Klizan in round one before a potential clash with Juan Martin del Potro in round three.