A hearty welcome from Eastbourne! I arrived on Friday night after a drama-free train journey, which was a relief after last year. I’m excited to say that I am media once again so i’m hoping to bring you plenty of posts and photos covering the WTA tournament over the next week. It’s my first year covering the tournament from Saturday to Saturday as I have decided to take a full two and a half weeks of work for the grass court season – I am floating on air with happiness right now!
My first player spot of the year was Karolina Pliskova who was standing next to me in line when I picked up my media accreditation. I pretended not to be phased and acted normal 😂. I had checked the weather forecast before leaving which had implied it was going to be dull but dry – of course it started drizzling within 10 minutes of being on the grounds!
This year there are four main practice courts adjacent to the Centre Court. Previously there were six with a further two behind but only one of these remain (Court 5 is now a match court). Devonshire Park is undergoing a lot of development work with a new show court for the 2018 tournament (see below) and a new building for the players which is ready for this year.
Over on the four main practice courts, players in qualifying were out practising. Tsvetana Pironkova and Mona Barthel, and Lauren Davis and Kristina Kucova were sharing a court. I think that every tennis fan should get to enjoy the experience of watching Pironkova play on grass. She was hitting flat and timing the ball beautifully. It was a bit of a surprise to find out later she lost her final qualifying round match to Lara Arruabarrena in three sets.
Duan Ying-Ying and Veronica Cepede Royg were practising together over on the adjacent court. Timea Babos was practising on the new Court 5 early this morning and she was the last player to leave before the drizzle became too much.
As the rain stuck around for a while, I sat in on both the ATP and WTA draws in the media centre with Nicolas Mahut and Timea Babos helping out respectively. I was taken aback during the women’s draw when they announced Petra Kvitova as a seed. I did a double take as it had not been publicised anywhere that she was playing Eastbourne. I tried to follow the draw but after naming the seeds, they just went through the unseeded players and I was totally lost. I was also wondering… did I really just hear Petra’s name?!
To be honest, it wasn’t the greatest start to the tournament as it was also announced that Lucie Safarova and CoCo Vandeweghe have pulled out through injury. I’m gutted to miss Lucie but just hoping she will be OK for Wimbledon. Her form through Nottingham and Birmingham has been really encouraging.
The full draw finally came out and it is a stunner. I can’t wait for the action to get underway on Sunday!
The rain did finally go away long enough for some play. I knew we were back in action when I heard the sound of tennis balls being hit on the practice courts. Novak Djokovic was out on the practice court with a large crowd. It was all ATP apart from Katerina Siniakova. She’s so much fun to watch and she has skills too as she practised some volleys.
My first live match of the 2017 Aegon International was the second round qualifying encounter between Duan Ying-Ying and Veronica Cepede Royg. To be honest, none of the qualifying matches really floated my boat but i’d never seen either player before so gave it a whirl. I only watched the first set and there wasn’t a great deal to tell with little to separate the pair.
Like London buses, the only two breaks came one after another at the end of the set. Cepede Royg won a couple of extended rallies to break at 5-5, but was broken straight back. Duan, who argued a few line calls and was quite fist-pumpy (why not, that’s a word), played a better tiebreak and won it with a serve-groundstroke winner combo.
Yulia Putintseva and Mona Barthel both turned up to watch a game or two. Duan went onto book her spot in the main draw with a 7-6(5) 6-2 victory.
Then it was back over to the practice courts where there was a feast of WTA activity. There was a lot of sharing of courts going on – Jelena Ostapenko and Barbora Strycova, and Alison Riske and Ekaterina Makarova seemed to be alternating on one court, and then Timea Bacsinszky and Carla Suárez Navarro, and Francesca Schiavone and Hsieh Su-Wei were sharing the one next door.
I heard a cackle from Strycova and I saw a lot of grinning from Ostapenko! I was pleased to see Bacsinszky for the first time who nearly had her head taken off by Hsieh at the net, which all four shared a laugh about. Schiavone and Hsieh then went off and Bacsinszky and Suárez Navarro got the court to themselves. Standing behind Timea watching her hit that backhand is a dream. She seemed happy enough although ended their session with a few wayward shots.
I then watched the whole match between Mona Barthel and Kristina Kucova which I really enjoyed. Barthel was hitting the ball really well and dominating Kucova. The serve was a key difference between the pair – Kucova threw in seven double faults during the match, while Barthel found some big serves when it really mattered.
I’ve watched enough Barthel matches to feel nervous myself when she serves out matches and unfortunately, she did have a wobble serving for this particular match at *5-3 with two double faults and two groundstrokes long. Kucova also played a bit better and came up with some wicked drop shots – she finished a marathon rally, one of the longest I think i’ve ever seen on grass, to level up at 5-5. She saved a match point in the same game.
Kucova had taken control of a few more rallies but Barthel managed to step up her aggression once more to hold serve to 6-5 in the second set. The German player broke for the win on an extended rally to prevail, 6-2 7-5. I went to take a shot of her winning celebration before realising my camera wasn’t turned on – I’m still rusty and was a mess by this point! The wind, the cold and the grass too. It’s only day one!