I’ve spent the last few days in Birmingham attending the Nature Valley Classic. It’s the first time that I have been since 2013 so a lot has changed! My two previous visits were both soggy affairs. While there was some rain, I did much better this time and even saw the sun ☀. This post provides a summary of my experience and will also, hopefully, be helpful for anyone that may consider going in the future.
Tickets can be bought online at the Nature Valley Classic website. The tournament is not as popular as Eastbourne so availability is always good, even close to the event. Prices have doubled since I last went but are still reasonable. There are three categories of seating and the pricing gets more expensive throughout the week from £35 on the Monday to £59 for the final. I think category 1 is worth the extra money as you can get so close to the action. The tournament also offer a 3-day ticket for Saturday to Monday for £30 which is a considerable discount.
Getting to the venue
There are various ways to get to the tournament, as advertised on the Nature Valley Classic website. There aren’t many hotels near the venue. I was staying in Birmingham city centre and walked to the tennis every day. I tend to walk everywhere! Google Maps said it would take me over 30 minutes but I managed to do it in less than 25 minutes at a swift pace.
If you come for the day by train, I would recommend going to the Five Ways train station which is a pleasant 15 minute walk to the grounds. If coming by car, there is a public car park next door to the venue which costs £11 per day during the week. There was a long queue on the Tuesday but otherwise seemed OK. More details can be found on the tournament website.
Entering the grounds
Entry to the grounds is through the car park at the Edgbaston Priory Club. Monday was the busiest day of the three but there was no queue at all on the Wednesday. Please note they do carry out bag searches. Restrictions though are limited with food and drink – you can even bring in a bottle of wine or champagne if you fancy! I never had a problem bringing in lots of food. The limit on camera lenses is no more than 300mm which is the same across all the grass court events in the UK.
Grounds and facilities
While close to the city centre, the grounds are very green and it’s a nice setting. It tended to get a little crowded at the ends of matches on Centre and I guess more so during the week as attendances rise. There were large seating areas above Court 1 and in the food area between the entrance to the grounds and Centre Court. I couldn’t get a seat when it rained on the Tuesday but at least there were plenty of places to run for cover. The toilets are located behind the west stand of the Centre Court.
Ann Jones Centre Court
For my three days in Birmingham, I chose seats in the South, North and West stands (see views below).
On Monday, I was in the front row of the South stand behind the court and in the diagonal corner. A fantastic view! I was on the end as I like to escape quickly but you do have to let a lot of people through!
On Tuesday, I was in the second row of the upper North stand. I was on the end of a row and was disappointed to have my view obstructed by a glass screen. It would have been nice if there had been an indication of a restricted view when I bought the tickets as I would have chosen different seats!
On Wednesday, I was in the second row of the West stand and in the corner where the players walk out. These seats were my favourite! I was so close to the action and managed to get my favourite photos of the week. I liked watching the players come out of the tunnel and you get a good view of the player interviews too. There is a lot of traffic at the end of matches as people seek out selfies and autographs in the front row.
Court 1 now has a stand of seating on the West side which is an improvement from my last visit. You can always get a seat in the stand as it is not ticketed. The only downside is you might have to sit next to school children! The view from the stand also has a decent view across to Court 2. There’s two rows of seating behind the court. I had no problem getting a seat on the Wednesday although it looked busier on the Monday and Tuesday.
You can also stand by the rails behind the court. If you’ve got tickets in the upper North stand, there’s a nice view from the top of the stand that overlooks the outside courts. There were so many good vantage spots for Court 1 and I enjoyed all the matches that I watched on this court.
Courts 1 to 4 are all next to each other. This has been one of my main issues about Birmingham in the past as you cannot get in between the outside courts. There is a viewing platform with two rows of seating behind each court. It never seemed to get too busy though and I often started my day getting a seat to watch some practices behind Courts 3 and 4.
The courts being next to each other did create some problems as there were often stray balls going into adjacent courts. There were quite a few lets played, and ballkids and even umpires having to throw balls back onto their desired court.
As you enter the grounds, there are three practice courts. As they are right at the entrance, they do tend to get quite busy in the morning as people congregate and watch. They are much better later in the day. On the Monday, I was practically the only person watching Maria Sakkari and you can get some photographs without any nets or barriers in the way from one side. This also seems to be a good spot for selfies/autographs when the players enter/leave the practice courts.
Food & drink and shopping
Unfortunately I can’t provide much information on this one as I didn’t buy anything! They have a bar and there are several food stalls including fish and chips. I always bring my own sandwiches to tournaments in the UK because it’s so much cheaper. There’s a shop where you can buy tennis racquets and clothing etc, and a small selection of Nature Valley Classic branded items.
I really enjoyed my three days in Birmingham and much more than I expected. I’d always been put off by the outside court set-up. However, it didn’t actually bother me as the grounds were never that busy so I didn’t have a problem getting on Court 1. From the Wednesday, most matches are on the Centre Court anyway.
Eastbourne’s popularity has gone supersonic in recent years so I really enjoyed a quieter and more relaxed vibe in Birmingham. Ticket prices are affordable and availability is excellent right up to the tournament, in case you make a last minute decision. I was able to buy almost front row tickets just a week before the tournament and got to see some WTA stars up close which would be very rare at most other tournaments. The stewards and volunteers were so, so friendly and I met some really nice people from Tennis Twitter. I am already thinking about going back next year 😊.