Dubai | Djokovic disappoints as Eagles soar into WTL lead

The Eagles soared to the top of the World Tennis League leaderboard on Wednesday with a 38-31 point win over The Falcons in a tie that disappointed fans in Dubai, as the highly-anticipated clash between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios failed to happen when the 21-time Grand Slam champion was replaced at the last minute by Grigor Dimitrov.

It’s always good to have these bonus matches [at the end of a season], and this is the best kind of pre-season you could wish for. I’m a massive fan of the team environment, I think it’s pretty cool. It’s a good experience for the fans and the players, not many events where I can be seen next to Rohan Bopanna and Bianca Andreescu, so it’s pretty cool, it gives tennis a bit of a different dynamic. Nick Kyrgios

It seems Djokovic was not feeling well enough to take on Kyrgios in what would have been a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final.

A WTL statement said: “Djokovic announced he won’t be partaking in the WTL tonight due to not feeling 100% well enough to play. Team Falcons will continue to play v Team Eagles, and we look forward to Novak’s return to centre court.”

Dimitrov went on to beat Kyrgios, 7-6(5) 6-3, in a major upset, seamlessly filling in for his friend and not missing a beat, but tennis fans were left fuming that they didn’t get to see the promised rematch between the Serbian and the Australian.


Bianca Andreescu & Rohan Bopanna lost to Grigor Dimitrov & Aryna Sabalenka of The Falcons but put The Eagles in the lead

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

The tie began with an interesting situation, however, when, in the opening mixed doubles, Dimitrov & Aryna Sabalenka defeated Rohan Bopanna & Bianca Andreescu, 2-6 7-6(4) [10-7], but earned fewer points for The Falcons due to winning fewer games, so The Eagles led after the first rubber, despite losing it.

The 4 teams are playing each other in a round-robin format that consists of a mixed doubles rubber followed by a women’s singles and then a men’s singles.

They get a point for each game won in each tie, plus one bonus point for a win in a 3rd-set match tiebreak and 5 bonus points for winning the tie.

The first set of the mixed was dominated by The Eagles, with Bopanna & Andreescu ruthless on the break points they created, which proved the deciding factor.

After making 2 out of the 3 chances they held, as well as denying all the 5 offered to their opponents, they won the first set with the loss of just 2 games.

Dimitrov & Sabalenka fought back in the second, earning their first break of the match to lead 5-3, but they let their advantage slip, and then faced a match point in the 12th game.

They managed to stay calm enough to force a tiebreak, and took The Falcons to success in the breaker before doing the same in the following match tiebreak to win the match.

The Eagles proved to be the more successful team, though, as they earned 12 points, while The Falcons won only 9 games, but received one additional point for winning the match tiebreak, and another for winning the match, which brought their total up to 11 so, despite winning the match, they were the less successful team.

Andreescu is thoroughly enjoying her mixed doubles experience in Dubai, having won the opening rubber with Kyrgios on Monday, and now playing alongside Bopanna, who won the 2017 French Open mixed doubles title partnering Gabriela Dabrowski.

The 42-year-old is still going strong on the ATP Tour, and is currently ranked No 19 in the doubles rankings.

While Bopanna & Andreescu played a thrilling contest, the Indo-Canadian duo narrowly lost out in the match tiebreak, but despite the outcome, Andreescu was happy with her experience of playing with the doubles great: “Pretty cool person to share the court with @rohanbopanna,” she wrote on Twitter.


Caroline Garcia extended The Eagles lead by beating Paula Badosa in the women's singles

© Ryan Lim/AFP via Getty Images

Next up on Wednesday was the women’s singles and, with the Eagles leading 12-11, Caroline Garcia, the World No 4, took on The Falcon’s Paula Badosa.

Garcia has played both women’s singles matches for the Eagles so far, and she wanted to extend her team’s lead.

The opening two games went against serve before, with Garcia leading 5-4, Badosa double-faulted to drop her delivery for a second time, and handed the Eagles the set.

The second followed a similar pattern, with Garcia this time broken in the 3rd game before once more immediately breaking back to level at 2-2.

Garcia soon went on to take the upper hand as she broke Badosa to love to lead 4-2, but she still needed to fight off a break point as she served for victory to level the tie.

“It was a great atmosphere out there, and I really played a good match,” said Garcia. “I’m playing with this team format for the first time and I really enjoy it. It’s really good fun, a different experience.”


Grigor Dimitrov replaced Novak Djokovic and upset Nick Kyrgios to claw back points for The Falcons

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

By winning the match, Garcia increased The Eagles’ lead to 24-18, and Dimitrov was faced with the difficult task of turning the Falcon’s fate around when he unexpectedly faced Kyrgios in the men’s singles.

Kyrgios had been eager to get a crack at Djokovic again, after going down in the final at the All England Club, but the World No 22 faced an entirely different, last-minute, opponent in the Bulgarian.

With Djokovic on the bench supporting his team, as well as showing a few dance moves during a change of ends, the match was a close one for the first set and a half, with neither player earning a break of serve as the opener went to a tiebreak.

The second also stayed even until 3-3, when Dimitrov broke serve to lead 4-3 after Kyrgios had saved 3 break points, and that appeared to break the Aussie’s’ resolve as the Bulgarian broke again for the match, but it was not enough to see The Falcons outfly The Eagles.

Despite his defeat, Kyrgios is happy to be a part of the World Tennis League: “It’s always good to have these bonus matches [at the end of a season], and this is the best kind of pre-season you could wish for,” he said.

“I’m a massive fan of the team environment, I think it’s pretty cool.

“It’s a good experience for the fans and the players, not many events where I can be seen next to Rohan Bopanna and Bianca Andreescu, so it’s pretty cool, it gives tennis a bit of a different dynamic.”

Following the last two ties of the round-robin phase to be played on Friday, the top two teams on the leaderboard will face off in the final on Saturday, 24 December.


Day 3 Results – Eagles d Falcons, 38-31

  • Grigor Dimitrov & Aryna Sabalenka (Falcons) d Rohun Bopana & Bianca Andreescu (Eagles), 2-6 7-6(4) [10-7]
  • Caroline Garcia (Eagles) d Paula Badosa (Falcons), 6-4 6-3
  • Dimitrov (Falcons) d Nick Kyrgios (Eagles), 7-6(5) 6-3

Day 4 Schedule – Hawks v Kites

  • Alexander Zverev & Elena Rybakina v Felix Auger-Aliassime & Eugenie Bouchard
  • Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova v Iga Swiatek
  • Dominic Thiem v Holder Rune

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