Sunday saw the conclusion of qualifying matches and the start of the main draw at the 2017 Aegon International in Eastbourne. Before play began at 11am, I found Angelique Kerber practising on Court 5. There had been some murmurings as to whether Kerber was going to play Eastbourne as she returned to Mallorca after pulling out of Birmingham with a hamstring injury. In terms of the injury, there didn’t seem to be any obvious issues during this practice.
There were very few people watching and there’s no netting like the practice courts so it was ideal for taking photos. The sun was also out so it was most enjoyable! Kerber was with a hitting partner and her coach, Torben Beltz. It was a full practice – I stayed for an hour but she was still going half an hour later according to other people attending. It’s hard to gauge from practice where a player’s level is at but she seemed to be hitting the ball fine. The one highlight while I was watching was her backhand return which was super sharp.
Kerber seemed content and there were a few smiles during the practice. The German player did manage to break a string during the practice, which she seemed perplexed by! Kerber will open her campaign at Devonshire Park on Tuesday against either Kristyna Pliskova or Naomi Broady.
At 11am, I opted for Court 1 to see the resumption of a final round qualifying match between Francesca Schiavone and Lauren Davis. Schiavone was leading 6-3 0-1* when rain halted play on Saturday. Davis went onto win the next five games to claim a morning bagel. Schiavone was slow to get started, while Davis produced a handful of brilliant passing shot winners, one so good that it got the thumbs up from Schiavone. There was one sensational rally (I can’t remember which set) that was probably even longer than the one from the Barthel-Kucova match I mentioned yesterday. The Eastbourne crowd is normally quite quiet and sleepy but they gave an extended round of applause for this rally.
Schiavone got on the board early in the decider and surprisingly, ran away with the set. The Italian player wore down a rapidly fading, Davis whose level rather dropped into the abyss! She let out one big scream and just couldn’t turn it around with Schiavone rather strolling to the win, 6-3 0-6 6-1, and sealing it on a fabulous match point (see below). There was a nice, respectful handshake between the pair and a relatively big cheer for Fran. I later saw Lauren with her coach (she won only one more game after he came on after the second set) and they understandably looked a little glum.
Next it was over to the practice courts where Timea Bacsinszky and Svetlana Kuznetsova had a court to themselves and were getting ready for their first round doubles match together (more to come in Set Points part 2!). Their practice was great to see up close with both taking it so seriously – they each let out screams of frustration, Sveta’s the loudest! Before this, there was a loud scream from one of the match courts, to which Bacsinszky told Kuznetsova’s coach that he wanted him to find who it was!
I saw the last game of the qualifying match between Varvara Lepchenko and Risa Ozaki. The American missed two match points, one on a rally where her grunt got progressively louder and louder, but took it on the fifth overall to qualify for the main draw with a 6-4 6-4 victory.
My first main draw match was that on Court 1 between Alison Riske and Alizé Cornet. The first set featured plenty of breaks and a few slips too – Riske asked to see someone about the court surface. Riske broke at 4-4 thanks to two double faults from Cornet and then played a solid service game to take it, 6-4. Overall, I thought Riske’s willingness to be more aggressive and come forward was a decisive factor.
Riske claimed the first break of the second set by coming back from 40-0 on Cornet’s serve. The American won two lengthy games to go up 4-1 as an increasingly frustrated, Cornet continued to argue line calls. In one instance, she seemed to yell in the direction of one of the linespersons, “what are you doing, man!”
Riske was winning all the key games but as is often the case, that switched around when she came to serve for the match at *5-2. Riske seemed to back off a tad with the pair sharing some brutal baseline rallies. Despite her annoyance, credit to Cornet for really getting stuck in. Riske twice failed to serve out the match, but did well to eventually close it out at the third time of asking, 6-4 7-5. It was Riske’s fourth consecutive win over Cornet and all of them have been in straight sets! Next up for Riske is the number three seed, Karolina Pliskova on Monday.