Viking International, Eastbourne: Live tennis in COVID times

LIVE TENNIS!!! For the first time in two years, I watched actual live tennis at the Viking International in Eastbourne on Sunday. I deliberated whether to go or not because i’m still feeling quite wary about everything. In the end, the lure of live tennis and going back to one of my favourite haunts was too much. The weather forecast had looked very dodgy in the run-up but it turned out to be a glorious day. I decided just to have a day out, rather than staying in Eastbourne like I normally do. I think I got one of the last tickets for Sunday on Centre Court as I was right at the back! Hey i’m not complaining. Honest. After the tournament didn’t go ahead last year, I feel grateful to be able to attend.

There’s a lot of new things with Eastbourne this year. Obviously there are the new rules and restrictions on the grounds due to COVID (more in this post). There’s also a new title sponsor and a 32 player main draw instead of 48 players from recent years. I’m gutted about the latter. Sunday has always been my favourite day in Eastbourne with the start of main draw action, unlimited access to all the courts and a slightly more relaxed vibe before the masses flock to the seaside during the week. I was definitely caught out with this move. I swear when I bought my ticket it said “some main draw matches” for Sunday! With the new set-up, main draw action now starts on the Monday.

Read on for my diary from Eastbourne which includes highlights of the final round qualifying matches, action from the practice courts, Eastbourne in COVID times and new pictures 😱. A full album of photos from my day in Eastbourne can be found on the MTB Facebook page here.

Qualifying Highlights 🎾

Bernarda Pera d. Shelby Rogers, 7-5 0-6 6-0

Pera-Rogers was the only full match that I watched and it had a classic WTA WTF scoreline. This was an odd match. In the first set, the first seven games went comfortably with serve. Then three breaks in the last five games. Rogers failed to convert a set point at 5-4* 40-30* with a missed return as Pera increasingly dominated the rare baseline exchanges and went onto win the opener.

The second set was one-way traffic for Rogers who landed 89% of first serves in and managed to get the first strike in play before Pera. And then the third set was one-way traffic for Pera! I was surprised how quickly that third set went. Rogers lost her mojo on serve and Pera capitalised, crunching return winners and forehand winners.

Rogers is still alive and kicking in Eastbourne as she bagged a lucky loser spot into the main draw. If Pera can somehow bring her mentality/staying power up to the quality of her groundstrokes then I have no doubt that she’d be a top 20 player. This was a rare three set win for Pera, just her sixth in her last 21 three setters since August last year.

Marta Kostyuk d. Zhang Shuai, 4-6 6-4 6-0

This was a great win in the end for Kostyuk and I admire her spirit on court. I think she’s one to watch very closely in the next few years. I only watched the first set which was a topsy-turvy affair – Kostyuk 2-0 to Zhang 4-2 to level pegging at 4-4 and then Zhang 6-4. Zhang’s flat groundstrokes, hitting quickly into the corners, was ultimately the difference in the first set.

Camila Giorgi d. Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5 6-3

Just caught the last few games of this one where Giorgi comfortably served out the match in the second set. Giorgi had rallied from 3-5 down in the first set to win the last four games. The loudest crowd noise in-match of the entire day was for a rasping Giorgi passing shot winner to score the vital break at 3-2 in the second set.

Giorgi is always one to watch on the grass. In fact, i’ve just done my Draw Challenge for Eastbourne and i’ve ended up with Giorgi as my champ πŸ™ˆ. I expect this to age terribly. Eastbourne is one of the most challenging tournaments to predict with a sea of 50-50 match-ups, inexperienced players on grass and the lure of Wimbledon around the corner. I’m expecting carnage.

Vera Zvonareva d. Kristina Mladenovic, 6-3 7-5

When I peeked through my favourite vantage point on Court 1, Zvonareva was covered in towels. Iconic Bepa! There were monologues from both players in the first set. Mladenovic was complaining about something being slow, possibly the let machine? Zvonareva was Zvonareva πŸ˜‚. Mladenovic missed so many returns. Zvonareva looked good and I was not surprised she went onto win, winning the last four games to prevail in straight sets.

Christina McHale d. Anastasija Sevastova, 3-6 6-3 7-5

Sevastova is a magician. She’s gorgeous to watch when she’s in full flow and varying up the pace. I enjoy taking photos of Sevastova. On the other hand, i’m not surprised at this result because Sevastova… The Latvian player looked relatively comfortable in the first set and was controlling the play but she does have a habit of careering off on a tangent and losing her way mentally. At times in the first set, I almost felt she had too many options at her disposal. McHale advances to the main draw of Eastbourne for the first time since 2017.

Practice courts 🎾

I always say it. Watching practices is one of the best things about attending a tournament. The set-up wasn’t great this year and all these pictures were taken through black netting (more on the set-up to come). You could still watch the four main practice courts behind Centre Court. The following players spotted on the practice courts…

  • In the morning, Madison Brengle and Christina McHaleΒ were sharing a court with Magda Linette and Bernarda Pera
  • Bianca Andreescu and Veronika Kudermetova – I heard that Andreescu was very sweet with fans after practice and her team gave out signed tennis balls.
  • Paula Badosa and Francesca Jones – Jones was talking to Badosa and her coach in Spanish.
  • Kristina Mladenovic and Harriet Dart
  • Anastasija Sevastova and Viktorija Golubic
  • Yulia Putintseva, Petra Martic and Elena Rybakina were all practising with their coaches.

New player alerts πŸ””

Since I last watched live tennis, so many new players have emerged on the tour. For example, I didn’t have any photos of the French Open champion which is why my last post was a photo of the Suzanne Lenglen Court! I was on a new player alert and ticked five players off my list. Especially thrilled to catch Bianca on the practice courts.

Bianca Andreescu βœ…

Elena Rybakina βœ…

Paula Badosa βœ…

Marta Kostyuk βœ…

Francesca Jones βœ…

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Snap of the day πŸ“Έ

Not that happy with my photos as it’s been so long since I tried my hand as tennis photography. Favourite snap of the day was from my Centre Court seat, three rows from the back and in glorious sunshine. I had a great view overlooking the court and of the hills to the left.

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Eastbourne in COVID times 😷

So Eastbourne felt a bit different this year, as you would expect. The tourmament is running at 25% capacity. However, it still felt as busy as a normal Sunday because half of the grounds is off-limits to spectators. There is no access to court 4, court 5, many of the practice courts and the fan village. I’m guessing the lack of access to these areas was to keep the players separate from the spectators as I think the players are probably in a bubble? It was a shame and it meant that the area immediately outside Centre Court by the practice courts got quite cramped, especially when Centre entered out, which was not ideal for social distancing. In terms of mask etiquette, you have to wear a mask around the grounds. The majority followed the rules with a general tailing off during the day. The only exception to wearing a mask was when seated in a stadium or outside drinking/eating area.

Getting into the venue was no sweat at all. There were no physical tickets this year and it’s all done on your phone via the LTA Tickets App. I felt uncomfortable when they checked my bags as they took my drinks out, opened them and went to smell them… apparently checking to see if i’d brought in alcohol πŸ€”. That was a new one.

A few lowlights. The men’s toilets near Court 2 were disgusting as ever and they didn’t have any soap in the morning. Not ideal. Some of the signage was not updated such as the order of play board which was completely blank all day πŸ˜‚. Helpful. Sad to see no Court 3 although I guess this was surely to free up space otherwise social distancing would have been impossible. Also none of the pull-up chairs which is just iconic at Devonshire Park.

A few highlights. Loved having no-one sitting immediately next to me on Centre Court and could get used to that FOREVER. I was also relieved to be able to walk around to my favourite vantage point on Court 1 which is looking through the central entrance. I thought I might get told to jog on, or there’d be a one way system preventing it, but the stewards thankfully let me watch on.

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Final thoughts πŸ€”

I have so many great memories from Eastbourne and it was a treat to visit again. It’s always been such a friendly tournament and I loved catching up with familiar and new faces around the grounds πŸ€—.

The last four years i’ve attended Eastbourne as media. I was intrigued to see what the media protocols would be like this year and it said on the website it would be on “an invitiation-only basis”. It appears my invitation got lost in the post πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚. I’m grateful to have had that opportunity but I don’t think i’d be considered anymore as I don’t blog as much as I used to. I’ve also realised I am much happier as a tennis fan. I hope to be back as a fan next year when things are a bit more normal? Actually, I think the tickets I booked for 2020 have rolled over again to 2022 so I am committed for next year!

I’m disappointed how the tournament is trending towards reserved courts. When I first went to the tournament back in 2010, you could get on any court with your Centre Court ticket. Now you need a separate ticket for Centre, Court 1 AND Court 2. I’ve noticed that Eastbourne has grown in popularity over the recent years and become increasingly busy. It’s been a sell-out for many years now so I don’t see the reserved seating ever changing. I’ve always have a soft spot for Eastbourne but I can’t help feel the tournament has lost some of its charm.

Hopefully there will be one more live post on MTB and new pictures (😍) this year as I got lucky with Wimbledon tickets!

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5 thoughts on “Viking International, Eastbourne: Live tennis in COVID times

  1. Thanks for this, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I’d respectfully encourage you not to be wary about Covid. Your age group is, in general, not at risk. And US states and countries with far fewer or no restrictions have not had more deaths.

    Scientists know there is virtually no transmission between asymptomatic people, for this or any virus. There are many reasons why some scientists are supporting restrictions, and why governments have acted as they have, too much to go into here.

    Look forward to more posts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It seems that you were lucky with the weather here James as it was not good yesterday and it is not that good today either. as you will know. I have never been to Eastbourne. It is quite a long way from where I live. It seems a very pleasant place though and I’ve always enjoyed watching the tennis from there on TV. Some of the players are wearing nearly all black clothing today…wonder if it makes them feel warmer as it looks cold and windy there.

    So Paula Badosa can play good tennis on grass as well as clay. She is now on my list of fav players. She just lost in an entertaining match against Svitolina and I agree with one of the commentators who said that Paula’s lack of experience on grass did show today. Svitolina reached the semis’ in her last appearance at Wimbledon but will have to cut out the errors if she is going to do as well this year.

    Been thinking about who I will select to win Wimbledon and I still do not have a clue !

    Like

    • Very lucky, Peter! And the forecast had been bad for the Sunday for much of the week before so I was thinking about not going. It’s a nice place and I love anywhere by the sea. Eastbourne tends to be quite chilly, often windy although Sunday was surprisingly warm. I was slapping on the sun cream! Saw bits of Badosa-Svitolina, quite impressed with Badosa. I have no idea what’s going to go off at Wimby. Normally there’s a list of clear contenders but there are doubts about so many players going into this tournament.

      Like

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