Devonshire Park, Eastbourne
Order of Play Leaflet: Free
Today I took in what has become my one annual taste of tennis, taking advantage of free entry to watch some professional tennis relatively on my doorstep. It is an event I always look forward to, being able to meander around the complex, taking in games that take my fancy, and being able to support some British players, with the added attraction this year of Laura Robson entering the tournament in the Qualifying stage again this year as she struggles to make her way back up the rankings following a long injury lay-off.
Much remained the same this year on the opening Saturday as in previous years - tickets were handed out by stewards just outside the main entrance, and the programme was of very good quality, 114 full colour, glossy pages and was a very interesting read on the main stars appearing at Eastbourne this year, although it inevitably was not of much use in terms of the actual tournament itself, and was completely irrelevant to today's action involving tennis' lesser lights, most of whom will consider it a considerable achievement just to make Monday's main draw.
For my first game of the day, I settle alongside Court Two to watch what looked like being an evenly matched encounter, with Croatia's Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, ranked 56th in the WTA Rankings and third seed in today's qualifying competition, against the USA's Alison Riske, 81st in the rankings. Riske will surely be full of regret for Riske, who was unable to close sets out from very good positions. In the first set, she was 5-2 up, but then lost the next five games (without about a half hour break following a brief shower with the score at 5-5) to lose the first set 5-7. In the second set, she was 5-3 up, but again went on to lose, this time 6-7 (losing the tie-break 3-7), as Lucic-Baroni progressed 7-5, 7-6 after one hour and forty five minutes of play.
I then made my way to Court 3, for the final set between second qualifying seed, 53rd ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, against 272nd ranked Maria Sanchez of the USA. The first set went as expected, with Kovinic winning 7-5, but Sanchez won the second set 6-3. And a shock soon developed, as Kovonic really lost her way as she got more and more frustrated after she lost her first service game, and after the subsequent games went to serve, Kovinic lost hers in the eighth game to lose the set, which lasted 45 minutes, 2-6.
I then made my way to a packed Court One for the highlight of today, with Laura Robson taking to the lawn. The partisan home crowd would certainly hope for a much stronger performance this year than last, when she was hammered in a performance that made spectators cringe, so out of her depth outclassed was she having just returned from her long term wrist injury. Again she was a Wildcard entrance to this tournament this year, currently ranked 308th. She was to be a massive underdog today, originally drawn to play ninth qualifying seed and 68th ranked Christina McHale. But late on, McHale withdrew from the tournament, and in her place, China's Yifan Xu would be the opposition, ranked 282nd. Robson's play still looked a little erratic at times, and this match turned out to be enjoyably even matched that could have gone either way. Robson's powerful shots and serves were to prove just too much for Xu, as she took the first set 7-5. Things threatened to sour for Robson in the second set though, as she lost her serve in the opening game, and at 1-2 down, she then received lengthy treatment with a plaster and then a bandage being applied to her thigh. Happily, those fears proved unfounded, as she broke Xu's serve in the next game, and after the following six games went to serve, then the next two against serve, the game went to a tie-break, which Robson won 7-4, to win the match, which lasted 1 hour 57 minutes, 7-5, 7-6. This was not a great performance by Robson, but she enjoyed what is these days a rare win, which she deserved for a gutsy performance.
For my final match of the day, I decided to stay on Court One, changing my view point to behind the line rather than along the side, to watch another Brit hoping to upset the odds to progress. The draw could not have been tougher for 18 year old Freya Christie, ranked 314th, against top qualifying seed and 43rd ranked Puerto Rican, Monica Puig. I was expecting a quick, one-sided match, but the reality was completely different, as Christie really impressed, matching Puig throughout the match which really could have gone either way. Every game in the opening set went to serve, but Puig edged the tie-break 7-5, to win the opening set 7-6. The second set was just as closely fought as the first, but with more service games being lost this time, and again with a little more fortune, Christie could easily have forced a third set as she rattled Puig at times. But in the end, Puig just edged the second set on a tie-break, winning 7-5 with an identical scoreline to the first game, to win the match 7-6, 7-6 after 2 hours and nine minutes. So a disappointing defeat for Christie, but she can be very proud to have come so, so close to causing a major upset. If she continues making progress, we Brits can be hopeful that Christie will hand a good future in the game, with time very much on her side.
This proved to be another enjoyable day at the tennis, albeit that the cool, damp conditions were more suited to football than tennis.