Another one of Eastbourne’s annual treats, and one with a long history. The first Wimbledon Championship took place in 1877 immediately after the rules of Lawn Tennis had been regularised. Just four years later the inaugural South of England Championships was held at its current venue, Devonshire Park, just a hundred yards or so from the seafront. It featured, as now, both men’s and women’s events and both singles and doubles. Unlike today, up until 1921 the Championship sometimes featured a challenge round where the final consisted of the winner of the knock-out rounds playing the previous year’s champion, who played only that one match. From 1905 for men and after the First World War for women the winner was often from overseas. Famous winners included Anne Jones, Maria Bueno, and Ken Rosewall, and indeed Mrs. Pious Bob’s grandfather Norman Marrett who won the Doubles in 1907. The men’s tournament stopped in 1973 and from 1974 onwards the Championships became the Eastbourne International, the most important pre-Wimbledon women’s grass court tournament. The most successful winner of this was Martina Navratilova who won the singles 11 times. From 2009 until 2014 and from 2017 to the present there has also been a concurrent men’s event with winners including Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic.
Enough of the History you cry. What is the hot pre-Wimbledon news? Who is burning up the turf? Well, MAE saw the Semi-Finals and Finals. Angelique Kerber from Germany, who was runner-up in 2012 and 2014, had a walkover in her Semi-Final where she was due to play the up-and-coming Tunisian Ons Jabeur. Karolina Pliskova, the 2017 winner, completely dominated the number 3 seed Kiki Bertens, with serves in excess of 110 mph to win 6-1 6-2. In the Men’s Semi-Finals an old Eastbourne favourite Sam Querrey from San Francisco out-powered the much slighter Italian Thomas Fabbiano over three sets. Querrey is known for his serving, having once served a record 10 aces in succession. When Querrey was readying himself on the service line after two particularly ferocious deliveries one wag called out “Play it again Sam”. The last match on the Friday saw Kyle Edmund, the British number 1, up against another, this time much younger, big serving Californian Taylor Fritz. Fritz is 6 ft 4 ins tall and capable of 140 mph serves. Both are essentially base line wallopers. Edmund managed to match him hit for hit in the first set and even had a set point which he was unable to convert at 6-5. Edmund lost the ensuing tie break and Fritz then dominated the second set to win 7-6 6-3.
On a hot Saturday Mr. & Mrs. MAE headed again to Centre Court expecting some close fought finals. Sadly Angelique Kerber, last year’s Wimbledon champion, started slowly against Pliskova and lost the first set 6-3. She managed something of a fight back in the second but still couldn’t really cope with the Czech’s fast serves and unerring eye for a wrong call losing the second set 6-4. On this form Pliskova could go on to win Wimbledon this year. The men’s final was, as expected, a battle of big servers revelling in the California-like sunshine, though both Querrey and Fritz we happy to come into the net at times which made for an entertaining match. Ultimately Querrey, who hadn’t played a tournament since April, found his younger opponent too strong for him. Fritz finished with a flourish, serving a 140 mph ace. He has a difficult Wimbledon first round draw against Thomas Berdych this year but is certainly one to look out for now and in future years.
If you are lucky with the weather, and have never been to a top tennis event, I recommend Eastbourne. It has a relaxed atmosphere and knowledgeable capacity crowds (unlike, say the French Open, and to a lesser extent Wimbledon, where many of those attending are more interested in their corporate lunches than the tennis. Tickets for 2020 go on sale on October 1st.
(Wimbledon middle Saturday update on those mentioned with approval above. Pliskova and Querrey have both reached round 4. Fritz went out in round 2 and Fabbiano in round 3.)