Greetings from Eastbourne! This is my eighth year in a row visiting Devonshire Park and my third year covering the tournament as media with the blog. Unlike the most recent years that have been largely cold, windy and damp, the next week is set to be a scorcher! Saturday was almost a perfect weather day – not too hot and with very little wind. It’s forecast to reach mid 20s in the middle of the week 🌞.
I’ll be here until Wednesday and hope to share my experiences including plenty of photos. The focus for me is always on forehands and backhands, but I am hoping to attend a few press conferences with the players. In fact today something very exciting happened which blew all my expectations and goals for the week out of the water! Read on for 10 stories covering my first day in Eastbourne.
Eastbourne qualifying draw
The qualifying draw came out on Thursday night with the first round being played on Friday. It was a particularly depleted draw with three byes. It’s interesting to note that many players who would have been in qualifying for Eastbourne have opted to play the ITF tournament in Southsea, which is headlined by Petra Martic. There’s also the new rule regarding players in Slam qualifying not being allowed to play a tournament in the same week.
Still, there was a decent list of players and surprisingly, all the players I wanted to win on day 1 did! The second round of qualifying commenced on Saturday with six matches and the winners all moving forward to the main draw.
It was nice and quiet early on so I got a few shots of Natalia Vikhlyantseva before Katy Dunne and Sachia Vickery came out to practice. I also saw Kurumi Nara practising on the lone court by the old media centre.
Changes to Devonshire Park
There’s quite a few changes to the venue with the new court 2 in action this year. This is situated in the bottom left hand corner of the site with one stand of seats. I’m disappointed that there is no seating on any of the other sides. I’m wondering if they may put in some seating on the south side in the future. You can just about see the players from this side but there is a big fence is in the way! The pictures below shows the stand for court 2 in the distance and the view from it.
Court 3 (the old Court 2) now has permanent seating on both sides (pics to come tomorrow). I think this is a shame because I liked up the set-up with fold-up seats that anyone could pull up and watch. It was also good for just taking photos standing up. There is now less space around Centre Court and i’m generally disappointed with the changes.
Eastbourne continues to thrive and tickets for Centre and Court 1 are completely sold out for Monday to Saturday. This was PRIOR to the announcements that Murray and Wawrinka had taken wild cards. I think it’s very naughty that you have to pay for tickets for EACH of Centre, Court 1 and Court 2. Compare this to the US Open where a ticket for Arthur Ashe Stadium will grant you access to every single court.
Match Recap – Ka. Bondarenko d. Konjuh (Eastbourne, QR2)
My first match of the 2018 Nature Valley International was on the new court 2 featuring Ana Konjuh and Kateryna Bondarenko. Konjuh had won her first match on grass on Friday in the first round, 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6(4) over Taylor Townsend. The Croatian player is still on the comeback after another surgery on her elbow which had seen her play just one tournament (Brisbane) between the 2017 US Open and the 2018 French Open.
Bondarenko needed just 61 minutes to beat Ana Konjuh, 6-2 6-2. While not the ideal result for Konjuh, it must have been difficult to recover from her lengthy first round match having played so little tennis over the last six months. It’s just nice to see her back and *hopefully* pain free. Konjuh committed a lot of errors in this match, the majority going into the net. She missed a break point in each set – the one in the first set was on the best rally of the match as the pair went full out with some crushing groundstrokes. It was Bondarenko who managed to find the much-desired short ball that allowed her to hit a winner down-the-line. The lone opportunity in the second set was a Konjuh error into the net.
Bondarenko held tough on serve, managing to hold serve in all eight service games. Every time I see Bondarenko play live I am always impressed with her groundstrokes and she soaked up the pace from Konjuh and played with generally good depth. After Konjuh was unable to break late in the second set, Bondarenko rolled through the final game to a very secure victory. The Ukrainian player moves through to the main draw where she will play Alizé Cornet in the first round.
Dash and Ash practice
After Bondarenko-Konjuh, I headed over to the practice courts as I had spotted what looked like Daria Gavrilova and Ash Barty. It was indeed Dash and Ash and I watched for a while. Love these two!
WTA main draw unveiled
The main draw for the 2018 Nature Valley International was held by the draw board outside the South Stand on Centre Court at 12:30pm. Dominika Cibulkova was on hand to draw out names. She asked for someone else to draw out her opponent. Cibulkova will play Ekaterina Makarova in the first round – her reaction got a laugh from the crowd!
WTA main draw
I’ve not had a chance to go through the draw in detail but that’s to come tonight. I’ll be putting up a match thoughts page and will *try* to keep it updated. I’ve just been too busy over the last few days to keep the Brum one going.
Pre-tournament press with Konta
Johanna Konta was scheduled to do a press conference on Saturday. This didn’t go ahead but I did get the opportunity to talk to Jo one-on-one!!!!! I’ve spent most of the afternoon freaking out about this. Stay tuned for a separate post on this tonight…
Match Recap – Sestini Hlavackova d. Pera (QR2)
My last match of the day was on Court 1 where I sat in the two rows of seats behind the court to see Andrea Sestini Hlavackova vs. Bernarda Pera. I’d never seen Pera play live and was taken with her game when I watched her play Madison Keys in Charleston earlier this year. It was quite a shock result as Sestini Hlavackova won 12 of the last 13 games to beat Bernarda Pera, 3-6 6-0 6-1! This was the first time that Hlavackova has played singles since Quebec City last year. As pointed out by @StevenMTennis on Twitter, Hlavackova has successfully qualified for the main draw of singles in her last three attempts.
It was a strange match because Pera’s body language never really changed, even in the third set when the match really got away from her. From 2-2 in the first set Pera pulled away, hitting some beautiful forehands and throwing in a few neat slices. At this time, I thought Pera has a good game for grass but then everything kind of tumbled into the abyss! Pera’s game noticeably dipped in the final few games of the decider. I thought Hlavackova played a fine match though and she was absolutely crushing the return at the end with Pera offering little resistance.
Sestini Hlavackova advances to the main draw where she will play Aleksandra Krunic in the first round.
Again only six women’s singles matches on the schedule which means Monday will be fun! My match of the day for Sunday is definitely Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Maria Sakkari so I hope to make it on Centre for that in the last day of being able to sit wherever you like!