Monday, 16 June 2014

Eastbourne International Tennis Tournament - Day One

Saturday 14th June 2014
Eastbourne International Tennis Tournament Qualifying Rounds
Devonshire Park, Eastbourne
Admission: Free
Order of play leaflet: Free

Ever since I visited Eastbourne annually to watch county cricket at The Saffrons and passed Devonshire Park back in the nineties, I had always fancied taking in a day’s play during the Eastbourne International tournament week, but had always forgotten about it until it was too late each year. When I discovered a week or so ago that tickets would be free of charge on the opening day of this year’s tournament, I hurriedly booked my ticket for my first ever taste of live tennis.

Devonshire Park is about a ten minute walk from Eastbourne railway station, and is converted into an extremely attractive and well organised venue for this tournament week. Although one can use any of eight entrances to get into the ground, once inside the main entrance, one finds marquees offering information, refreshments and souvenirs. Beyond these are eleven tennis courts, all fenced off with spectators able to watch the action either to the side or behind the courts. It’s a packed area, but it never felt too busy or claustrophobic today, with some attractive buildings scattered around the perimeter, including Devonshire Park theatre. Beyond the outside courts are the two main arenas, Centre Court and Court One, which back onto each other. Centre court obviously dominates the area, with its stands dominating the complex. Behind one length is the large main stand, with a small roof covering the top couple of rows, and some hospitality lounges along the top of the stand – which also look over Court One to the other side. The main stand continues around one of the corners and behind one end. Further permanent seating stretches along the other length, although not as high, and temporary seating is placed above the permanent seating, so that the top of this stand matches the other two sides, and indeed all four sides have stands of matching height, as behind the remaining end, an entirely temporary stand has been erected. The Centre Court is extremely smart and pleasing on the eye, with everything sky blue and white coloured and it has a nice close-knit and atmospheric feel to it. A large scoreboard is located in one corner, with a much smaller one containing only the score is placed at the top of the entirely temporary stand. As mentioned, Court One backs onto the main stand of the Centre Court, and today one could walk freely between the two via the stand. There are six rows of permanent seating along this length, whilst along the opposite side is a temporary stand offering ten rows of seating. Behind one of the ends is a rather cramped two rows of seating, whilst behind the other end are just advertising boards. On a day of free entry like today, the complex was an excellent set-up, with it easy to wander around the pitches to find a game that takes one’s fancy, with a good, relaxed atmosphere throughout.

For my first game of the day, I chose to take up residence on Centre Court for the 10.30 game, to see if Great Britain’s Scott Clayton, hailing from Jersey and with an ATP ranking of 1,152, could cause a big upset against Australian Chris Guccione, ranked 614. Although Clayton made a moderately promising start, Guccione comfortably progressed within 52 minutes, winning 6-2, 6-1.

I stayed on Centre Court for my second game to cheer on another Brit, this time Ken Skupski, a Liverpudlian who doesn’t currently have a singles ranking as he concentrates on the doubles variety with his brother, against Frenchman Remi Boutillier, currently ranked 451. This would be a closer game match than my earlier one, Boutillier winning the first set 6-3, but the second set was very close fought and eventually went to a tie-break, which could have gone either way but in the end Boutillier triumphed in the tie break 7-3, to win 6-3, 7-6, with the match taking just over an hour and ten minutes.

I then moved to the adjacent Court One to take in some women’s tennis, to watch one of the best players playing in the Qualifiers today, Italian Francesca Schiavone who is ranked 71 but who was ranked as high as fourth in early 2011, won the French Open in 2010 and reached the Quarter Finals at Wimbledon in 2011, against Japan’s Misaki Doi, currently ranked 98th. This match started off very evenly, but as it wore on, Schiavone imposed herself more and more, playing some great shots and gradually wore Doi’s resistance down, winning the match by 6-4, 6-3 with the match taking an hour and eighteen minutes.

I remained on Court One for my fourth game of the day, to cheer on a Brit, this time 17 year old Katie Boulter, ranked 581 but who still plays predominantly junior tennis. It would surely be a mighty tough assignment to progress in this game, against Austria’s Tamira Paszek, currently ranked 127 but who was ranked as high as 26 last year and won this tournament in 2012. Boulter started quite competitively, but soon made far too many unforced errors and in the end, Paszek comfortably progressing by winning 6-3, 6-1 in 56 minutes.

After a short break wandering around the complex and watching short snippets of action from the out pitches, taking in a couple of games in Court Two watching Jade Windley against Ana Tomljanovic....

I then returned to Centre Court for my final match of the day, a second qualifying round game featuring Remi Boutillier, who I had watched this morning, against Germany’s Tobias Kamke, ranked 88 and top seed in the qualifying tournament, thereby receiving a bye in the first qualifying round. This would be the closest game I had watched today, with Boutillier putting up a great show against a much higher ranked opponent, although he did frustratingly make some basic errors and was not helped with losing his footing on several occasions, perhaps due to the brief light rain shower that arrived soon after this game started. Kamke won the first set 6-4, but in the second half, he seemed to self-destruct somewhat, allowing himself to get frustrated and seemingly lose a little composure, earning an official warning from the umpire, and Boutillier won the second set 6-3. Unfortunately for him, Kamke regained his composure and dominated the final set , eventually winning 6-3 to progress, with the match taking one hour and 43 minutes.

 This was the final match on centre court, and I wandered down to Court One to watch Chris Guccione, who I watched first thing this morning, win a second set tie break to advance to the third round. Although matches were still going on around the minor courts, I decided I had experience enough tennis for the day and made my way home, but this was certainly a most enjoyable day, being able to pick and choose a tennis game to watch, and excellent value with the free admission - this was surely not be my last taste of tennis.

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