Eastbourne. A word that conjures up seagulls the size of Great Danes, swathes of Victorian hotels and miles of shingle beaches. And, to tennis lovers, surely the best WTA tournament outside of the Premier Mandatories.
In 2017, seven out of the world’s top 10 female players competed, and they’re not there for the 470 points up for grabs (although that surely helps). No, from the players’ point of view this is the best possible warm-up for Wimbledon – and that has a happy corollary for punters. This is a chance to watch some of the world’s best players for pocket-money prices.
This is a chance to watch some of the world’s best players for pocket-money prices.
Djokovic described it as a “festival of tennis”, and he wasn’t wrong. Quite apart from the set stage of Centre Court, from Sunday to Thursday you’re pretty much guaranteed a big-name match in Court One – and in the early days you’ll almost certainly see a Top 20 player up-close and personal on one of the outside courts.
Personally, I wouldn’t aim for the semi-final or final days (Friday and Saturday). Inevitably, there are fewer matches going on while the prices increase.
Instead, I’d turn up for the qualifiers on the previous Friday. It’s free to get in, and you’ll probably end up watching some Top 50 players battle it out for a place in the main draw, along with promising British talent.
The bijou tournament & town
All the action takes place at Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club, which is a three-minute walk from the beach front – and the hotels that line it. The generous number of which means it’s easy to find an affordable hotel for however long you want to stay.
Another lovely thing about Eastbourne, and why you should be planning next year’s trip right now, is that it’s so compact.
You don’t need a car: the town centre is a ten-minute walk from most hotels and the club, which means that if there’s no play for a few hours you can stroll into town. Not that this is a beacon of culture, but there is a traditional town-centre cinema if you need to kill a couple of hours, plus surprisingly good restaurants.
They’re great value too.
Start your day with a full English breakfast for around £5 (I recommend Amy’s Cafe on Seaside Road), enjoy a pizza for a tenner or splash out £15 or so for an excellent curry with beer.
What’s more, I came back from Eastbourne 2017 and played the best tennis of my life, perhaps inspired by watching Heather Watson from a few feet away. As a tennis fan, you really couldn’t ask for more.
Aegon International Eastbourne 2018 runs from Friday 22 June to Saturday 30 June. Friday 22 to Sunday 24 are the qualifiers and round of 64, with the main tournament running from Monday 25 June. Book your tickets via the LTA site.