WTA AEGON International, Eastbourne; Wozniacki shines on grass

29 06 2009
Caroline Wozniacki lifts the trophy at Eastbourne

Caroline Wozniacki lifts the trophy at Eastbourne

I enjoyed the AEGON Classic at Birmingham, definitely; but the AEGON International at Eastbourne the following week was even better. Proudly proclaiming to include seven of the world’s top ten female tennis players plus a host of other top names, I set off excited about six days at this tournament. The seven top ten players were Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova – though not in that order. Other names included Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, Jie Zheng, Agnes Radwanska and Amelie Mauresmo. Prior to this year it had been a WTA-only event but was now including men’s tennis as part of the ATP tour, but as this was an ATP 250 tournament, it wasn’t a particularly attractive line-up, especially if you’re not as interested in the ATP anyway.

So, I arrived at Eastbourne train station at 1.15pm and made my way to the B&B where I was to spend the first two nights, before heading to Devonshire Park where the tournament was being held. This proved to be about a twenty minute walk along the seafront which was very pleasant, especially as the whole week was sunny and the sea breeze was very welcome. I was equipped again, with sun cream already on, sunglasses giving me an ultra-cool look (prescription sunglasses rule) and my new Wilson cap – as in ‘Wilson!’ from the film Cast Away.

My first stop was Centre Court to catch Ivanovic vs. Petrova; Ana was thumped 6-1 in the first set before fighting back to take the second, only for Petrova to win 6-4 in the third. I’d been hoping to see Ivanovic a couple of times so it was a disappointing first match for me, but I was happy to next see Jie Zheng on one of the smaller outside courts, beating Carla Suarez Navarro comfortably. The outside courts are great as there’s no fixed seating and you can watch the match and be only ten feet away from the players whilst the match is on, plus you can wander from court to court easily. I don’t know what the players feel about playing on them but as a spectator I think it’s excellent that you can get such a close view and have an intimate glimpse into the match like that, better than the bigger Centre Courts where you aren’t as close to the players and there’s a visible divide between you. It’s more fun when the players have to walk out amongst the common people to get back to the dressing room.

First up on Tuesday was the player I wanted to see most, Marion Bartoli, and I was delighted to find she was also playing on an outside court, against Argentine Gisela Dulko. A week later Dulko would beat Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon and be the subject of tabloid headlines like ‘The New Darling of SW19’. On this day though she was no match at all for Marion who swept her aside 6-3, 6-1. Bartoli looked to be in great shape and was obviously fully focused and determined to win, keeping herself in constant motion even between serves.

Marion Bartoli in action against Gisela Dulko

Marion Bartoli in action against Gisela Dulko

After the match she returned to looking like a genuinely sweet girl and I went to Court One to catch the last set of Jankovic vs. Chakvetadze. Having won the first set on a tiebreak, Jankovic had lost the second set and seemed to be in full meltdown when I arrived, trudging around the court and making her frustration clear to everyone as she went out 6-2 and became the second top player to fall in the First Round. A few hours later I was having a smoke by the entrance when Jankovic walked out with a couple of guys, tracksuit top wrapped around her shoulders, looking miserable and sounding very irritated.

Next I saw Vera Zvonareva’s first mach back after a spell out with an ankle injury. Sporting a mechanical looking ankle brace, she too went out at the first attempt, losing in three sets to former Number 1 Amelie Mauresmo. I rounded the day with a bit of Brit-watching, but unfortunately British No. 1 Anne Keothavong went out too, losing in straight sets to Sybille Bammer.

On Wednesday it was back to the outside courts to see Bartoli take on Anna Chakvetadze. Having conquered Jankovic in the first round I was interested to see how she’d do against Marion but needn’t have worried; the Frenchwoman took the first 7-5 and then Chakvetadze showed how a real meltdown looks, visibly upset in the rest between sets and requesting her despite having already seen him during the set.  After a couple of games of the second set she started crying on-court and screaming a number of times after long shots. In desperation she interrupted as Bartoli was about to serve to ask the umpire what the score was – I presume the scoreboard at each end of the court went un-noticed, as did the umpire’s calling of the score after the last point. Leading 3-2 in the second set, Bartoli took a medical timeout to have her right foot checked and rebandaged, before continuing play and easing out the set 6-3. Chakvetadze’s final act of grace was to refuse to shake hands at the net and slink off back to the locker room instead.

Cheered by Marion’s win I made my way to Centre Court to see another of my favourite players, Caroline Wozniacki. I’d only caught the last couple of games of her First Round win over Kleybanova and this match appealed as she was playing Australian Sam Stosur, another player I particularly like. Wozniacki took the first set 6-1 before Stosur got her game together and took the second set 7-5, only for the deciding set to be controlled by the promising young Dane.

A stop was made to watch some of a doubles match on an outside court featuring Ana Ivanovic and Sabine Lisicki taking on the Number 1 pairing of Cara Black and Lizel Huber, the favourites winning fairly comfortably before taking in the first set of Virginie Razzano vs. Elena Dementieva, which surprisingly was won 6-0 by Razzano. I then left as I had to meet my Dad, but Razzano took the second set by a much closer 7-6 scoreline.

I then had a change of accommodation as I was due to spend the next four nights in a camper van with my Dad, an arrangement brought about by a whopping energy bill and a drunken breaking of antique glass having a serious impact on the money I’d put aside for the trip. This arrangement worked out really well as it was nice to spend time with him and the campsite was lovely, very good facilities and surroundings and shared by an awful lot of rabbits, plus squirrels, birds and even a sighting of a badger. Our particular part of the site was called ‘Bunny Plain’ which was an apt name for it.

So, Thursday was Quarter Finals day and first up was Wozniacki taking on fellow youngster Ekaterina Makarova, who had dumped out Amelie Mauresmo in the previous round. She had no such victory this time though as Wozniacki took the game in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2 with another impressive performance from the Dane.

Another Bartoli match followed, this time against Anabel Medina Garrigues, a match which Bartoli was expected to win on grass and did so, taking the first set 6-1 before AMG found her feet in the second set, losing to a more respectable 6-4 scoreline. During this match Vera Dushevina appeared from the dressing rooms and watched part of the action from the tunnel, and she was next up against Aleksandra Wozniak, who had already beaten Jie Zheng and French Open champions Svetlana Kuznetsova. I expected a close match but Dushevina had a nightmare and lost to the Canadian 6-1, 6-0. I think she was struggling with the strong breeze but unfortunately for her Wozniak was having no such problems and the match turned into a rout. The Quarter Final I didn’t see, due to a schedule clash, saw Virginie Razzano beat last year’s tournament winner, Agnes Radwanska.

So, Semi Finals – both on Centre Court and first was the all-French clash between Razzano and Bartoli. There’s a bit of history between Bartoli and the other French players, due largely to Fed Cup issues, and it showed at the end of the match. Razzano took a close opening set 6-4 and Bartoli called for the trainer during the break, complaining of a thigh strain and having the area wrapped. Marion went out to try playing the second set but after the first game indicated that she couldn’t continue as her movement was severely limited. It turned out to be a thigh strain which thankfully didn’t make Marion miss Wimbledon, starting two days later, undoubtedly due to her retiring rather than continuing to play and put herself out of action for a while. As Bartoli returned to her bench her opponent walked over to her to shake hands but was shunned instead. It turned out that Razzano had been interview in a French newspaper the previous day and had claimed that Bartoli would often exaggerate injuries to try and get a mental advantage over her opponents, and would do anything to win. The refusal to shake hands was down to this latest development amongst the French tennis players. The good news is that the decision to retire seemed to be the correct one as Marion was able to play her match at Wimbledon a few days later.

The second Semi saw Wozniacki take on near-namesake Wozniak, a tie that was always going to confuse some of the new dynamic amongst the crowd, as more and more people arrived in their best dress and sales of Pimms escalated. Overheard from the people around me were the following:

“Which player’s which?”

“Wozniacki should win, she has nicer hair.”

“Why is she talking to her coach? You’re not allowed to talk to your coach during a match!”

“Women’s tennis is about the same level as amateur men’s tennis.” (uttered pre-match)

The comment about on-court coaching possibly irked me the most as it’s only been used in every tournament this season – 28 by my reckoning. The couple next to me arrived after just a couple of games though, having left after 5 games of the Razzano-Bartoli match to buy strawberries. I can’t see the point of paying £26 for a ticket if you’re not going to watch the matches or don’t follow the game at all during the rest of the year, but each to their own I suppose. Anyway, today Wozniacki didn’t seem quite as on top of her game as she had done in her other matches but she got it together in the third set to reach the final, where she would play the relatively rested Razzano.

Wozniacki prepares to receive

Wozniacki prepares to receive

This match was first up on Centre Court on Saturday, prior to the god-awful men’s final which followed. This match ended up being much closer than it appeared at first, as Razzano went 5-2 in the first set before starting to play as she can, storming back to level and take it to a tie-break. There, Razzano again fell behind, 6-1, only to make another great fight of it before succumbing 7-5 to a relieved Wozniacki. The second set was also a tight affair but the Dane closed it out 7-5 to seal her second WTA title of the year and her first ever on grass. Caroline fully deserved this title having played some great tennis throughout the week and was charming and professional during her speech afterwards, a true superstar in the making who is going to be fun to follow over the coming years.

So my week came to an end unfortunately, but it was well worth the trip and I had a great time in Eastbourne. Particularly pleased to have been able to watch some of my favourite players in action and delighted that Caro lifted the trophy at the end of it. I also got to briefly meet Marion Bartoli, Virginie Razzano, Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs which was great. Next call for these players is Wimbledon, and I’ll be back at Eastbourne next year for another excellent week!  Photos from the week can be found at http://s578.photobucket.com/albums/ss226/Inktrailer/ and the album folders should be on the left hand side.

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