Eastbourne AEGON International 2016: Preview as Belinda Bencic looks to retain her title

The AEGON Eastbourne International kicks-off on Saturday, as the women begin their preparation for Wimbledon.

Eastbourne AEGON International 2016: Preview as Belinda Bencic looks to retain her title
The tennis in Eastbourne kicks off June 18 - June 25 / LTA

The women’s AEGON international kicks-off in Eastbourne on Saturday and the likes of Belinda Bencic, Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, and Agnieszka Radwanska will be in attendance as the final preparations for Wimbledon begin.

It is a tournament that serves the women well; it gives them one final opportunity to put finishing touches on their game before the big Grand Slam of the year, and the most historic, Wimbledon.

Five of the top ten ranked players will be in attendance which could make the tournament one of the most closely fought one in years.

Radwanska, Roberta Vinci, Bencic, Timea Bacsinszky, and Kvitova are undoubtedly the stellar names.

But there is Brit interest as well; Australian Open semi-finalist and hometown girl Johanna Konta will be looking to reach the latter stages of the competition. And Heather Watson, who so nearly beat Serena Williams in the third round at Wimbledon last year, will also be giving Britain a two-pronged attack at Devonshire Park.

Bencic looking to retain title

The 19-year-old Switzerland player will be coming into the tournament with a target on her back; last year she defeated current world no.3 Radwanska to take her maiden WTA singles title as she won 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

19-year-old Bencic will be looking to retain her title this year at Eastbourne / Reuters
19-year-old Bencic will be looking to retain her title this year at Eastbourne / Reuters

And since that victory last summer she performed well; she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, succumbing to Victoria Azarenka. And then in the US Open in the latter part of 2015, she reached the third round where she lost to Venus Williams in straight sets.

This year she has struggled with injury; she missed the French Open, but after reaching the semi-finals in the S-Hertogenbosch she will be coming to Eastbourne in high-spirits after a good showing, and hoping to retain her crown.

Brit duo Konta and Watson hoping to wow the crowd

Konta and Watson will be the representatives for Britain and both will be hoping to put in a good performance.

The 25-year-old and Konta had a superb start to 2016 when she reached the semi-final of the Australian Open, only to be defeated by Angelique Kerber in straight sets.

But for women’s tennis in the UK it was a big moment that showed if the likes of Watson and Konta can get their game right they can cause a stir on the big stages. And with Wimbledon upcoming Konta will want to use her hometown tournament as a springboard for an improved showing next week in West London.

As for Watson it hasn’t been the best season; currently ranked 55, the Guernsey born Watson will look at Eastbourne for some sort of motivation. At the Nottingham International recently she was knocked out in the round of 32 by Magdalena Rybarikova, a player some 20 ranks below her in the standings.

But her performance at Wimbledon last year, should give the 24-year-old some encouragement that she can produce the goods when it matters.

Against Williams, in the third round last year she was so close to knocking the 21 time Grand Slam winner out of the competition, but as so often we see with Williams, the 34-yer-old found a way to win.

It should be a fascinating week of tennis at the Sunshine coast; some of the best women players will be competing as preparation for Wimbledon begin in earnest.