After a fortnight of lawn tennis action which has seen four tournaments played on the surface, the concluding act of the grass court swing in the lead-up to Wimbledon this year will see Eastbourne host the Aegon International Eastbourne. Draw-wise, it is the biggest grass court event on tour outside of Wimbledon. Top 10 stars Agnieszka Radwanska, Roberta Vinci, defending champion Belinda Bencic and Timea Bacsinszky lead the charge.
Focus on Eastbourne
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova holds the record for most titles, winning five in a row from 1982 to 1986, four in a row from 1988 to 1991 and another two in 1978 and 1993, for a grand total of 11. In last year’s final, an unseeded 18-year-old Bencic completed a dream week by capturing her maiden WTA title, prevailing over 2008 champion Radwanska in three sets.
Interestingly, the last two editions have seen teenagers lift the trophy. Besides Bencic winning last year, 19-year-old Madison Keys won the title in 2014, defeating Angelique Kerber in the final in three sets. For the second year in a row, the tournament’s unique 48-player draw will see all 16 seeds receive an opening round bye.
Eastbourne, a laid-back seaside town, is located on the southeastern coast of Great Britain in between Hastings and Brighton. The Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club will host tennis action throughout the week. Standing in the vicinity of Eastbourne College and Devonshire Theatre, the club is also a stone’s throw away from the beach.
Top seed Radwanska will look to overcome her Birmingham disappointment earlier this week whereby she was sent packing in the first round by eventual semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe. With Vandeweghe squaring off against Barbora Strycova in the first round, a rematch of their semifinal encounter yesterday, the Pole has a shot at revenge should the American overcome the Czech. Eugenie Bouchard opens against a qualifier with 15th seed Irina-Camelia Begu looming in the second round.
At the other end of the quarter, a battle of teenagers see Daria Kasatkina and Jelena Ostapenko meet across the net. Ostapenko has the advantage entering this match-up with the Latvian locking a quarterfinal appearance in Birmingham. The winner of the match faces 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova. 2004 champion and sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova bookends the opening quarter.
Radwanska should not face any problems throughout the early rounds and secure her spot in the last eight. Kuznetsova with experience in Eastbourne having won the title before is poised for a run to the quarterfinals as well. However, there will be no stopping for the Pole who will be hungry for wins after her early Birmingham exit. A second straight semifinal here looks likely for the Pole.
Prediction: Radwanska d. Kuznetsova
Swiss Bacsinszky, a quarterfinalist in Wimbledon last year and the number four seed here headlines this quarter. One of big-hitters Kristina Mladenovic and Yanina Wickmayer will face Bacsinszky in the second round. Progressing through the quarter, Caroline Wozniacki and Alizé Cornet square off in an enticing opening round clash. The winner meets seventh seed Samantha Stosur in the following round.
Other players of note are ninth seed and confirmed soon-to-be top 10 player Keys, who just reached the Birmingham final, and 16th seed Lucie Safarova who is a twice quarterfinalist in Eastbourne in 2012 and 2013. Keys could enter the tournament fatigued after a long week in Birmingham.
On the other hand, Wozniacki in particular, will look to turn her season around in this tournament where she has done well before including winning the title in 2009. The Dane should upset Stosur, whose grass results are nothing much to about en route the quarterfinals.
The past two months have been a good ride for Bacsinszky. After winning the Rabat title, the Swiss made the last eight in Rome, the round of 16 in Madrid and most recently, the quarterfinals at the French Open. Although she enters the tournament with no prior matches on grass, her recent consistency should work in her favour and live up to her seeding by making the semifinals.
Prediction: Bacsinszky d. Wozniacki
This quarter features defending champion Bencic. She opens her title defence against the winner between 2013 champion Elena Vesnina and local girl Heather Watson. The Swiss could meet 14th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the round of 16 should the Russian overcome her second round hurdle against a qualifier. Her title defence however is clouded by an injury after she retired in her opening match against Begu in Birmingham with an injured thigh.
Carla Suárez Navarro the eighth seed made the semifinals of Birmingham which featured a trio of three-set wins over Elina Svitolina, Andrea Petkovic and defending champion Kerber before coming up short to Keys. The Spaniard with reasonable momentum was however handed a tough draw with 10th seed Karolina Pliskova and Aussie Daria Gavrilova lurking in her eighth.
Gavrilova entered last year’s tournament as a lucky loser but eventually made the quarterfinals. The Australian is set to go one round better this year. With Bencic injured, she will look to make use of the opportunity and go all the way to the semifinals.
Prediction: Gavrilova d. Vesnina
Czech number one and the fifth seed Petra Kvitova along with British number one and ninth seed Johanna Konta could meet in the round of 16 in the upper half of this quarter. An all-powerful second round encounter between Kvitova and Camila Giorgi is on the cards, that is if the Italian overcomes Timea Babos in the first round. Konta’s probable opponents in her opener are either Laura Siegemund or Lesia Tsurenko.
Second seed Vinci makes her grass court debut. Despite having not played any prior matches on the surface, she possesses a backhand slice that works well with grass and could play herself into form. The Italian’s path to the final is not easy however, a second round clash with 2010 champion Ekaterina Makarova is on the cards. She could then meet compatriot and 13th seed Sara Errani or German Andrea Petkovic.
The double Wimbledon champion Kvitova suffered an early exit in the hands of Ostapenko in Birmingham and will want a better result in Eastbourne. With Wimbledon around the corner, it will be the Czech’s top-most priority. However, she should still live up to her seeding by making the quarterfinals. If Vinci does play herself into form, a semifinal result seems likely, her first since St. Petersburg in February where she won the title.
Prediction: Vinci d. Kvitova
Semifinals: Radwanska d. Bacsinszky, Gavrilova d. Vinci
Gavrilova, whose best result on the tour up till now being the semifinals in Rome last year will be into her first ever final and uncharted territory. The Aussie will want to put up a good challenge against Radwanska and prove her run to the championship round was no fluke.
After coming up short to Bencic in last year’s final, Radwanska will seek to finish on top this time around and collect her 19th WTA title and second on grass. The Pole will want to employ all her experience and craft in the final with the aim of ultimately reclaiming the Eastbourne trophy she last lifted seven years ago.