Novak Djokovic in action against Donald Young at Eastbourne on Thursday. Photo: Gareth Fuller, AP

EASTBOURNE – Novak Djokovic overcame a spirited challenge from Donald Young, beating the American 6-2 7-6 (11/9) on Thursday to claim the first of the semi-final places at the Eastbourne pre-Wimbledon event.

The Serb top seed, competing during the week before Wimbledon for the first time in seven years, saved a pair of set points in the second set before finally putting Young away after a lengthy tie-break.

The former World No 1 is rebuilding for Wimbledon after a poor past year by his world-class standards and is pointing toward the grass-court major as an immediate goal.

Djokovic, who took a wild card into the tournament on the English south coast, is the second-highest-ranked men’s player ever to compete at Eastbourne behind then-No 2 Marcelo Rios in 1998. 

With the rest of the field a round behind after two days of rain interruptions, organisers were playing catch up and praying for better weather.

South Africa's Kevin Anderson was defeated by Richard Gasquet on Thursday. Photo: Martial Trezzini, AP

Fourth seed and title-holder Steve Johnson finished off his contest with Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano, advancing 6-3 5-7 6-4. 

Second seed Gael Monfils dispatched Briton Cameron Norrie 6-3 6-2, while No 3 John Isner staged a comeback to defeat Dusan Lajovic 3-6 7-6 (7/2) 7-6 (7/4). 

Australian Bernard Tomic surprised sixth seed Mischa Zverev 6-3 6-2 as Richard Gasquet, seeded seventh, beat Kevin Anderson 6-4 6-4.

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