Eastbourne’s history as a perfect Wimbledon warm-up

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EASTBOURNE’S international tennis championships have been a popular fixture on the UK’s sporting calendar ever since it started way back in 1974.

Then an all-woman tournament, the annual Devonshire Park showcase attracted thousands of people to the town and provided Eastbourne with the sort publicity money cannot buy as every 12 months reporters from around the world descended on this corner of East Sussex.

It soon established itself as a perfect warm up for Wimbledon and began attracting some of the biggest names in women’s tennis.

Arguably the game’s greatest female player, Martina Navratilova, became the Darling of Devonshire by landing 11 Eastbourne titles and setting the standard for the stars who each year try and follow in her footsteps.

The tournament is now rated in the top 30 in world tennis and carries a prize purse of around $1million.

It made the shift to a mixed event in 2009 in a bid to further raise its profile and help secure its long-term future.

Two years previous to that a lack of sponsorship saw the Lawn Tennis Association look into the possibility of moving the tournament to London.

Instead, and thankfully for Eastbourne tennis fans, the decision was taken to merge the event with the Nottingham Open which was traditionally held during the same week.

That provided some security for Eastbourne and the line-up this year was among its strongest yet, with former World No.1 Andy Roddick joining a host of top seeded female players.

However, with tennis authorities having only confirmed the four grand slams for the 2014 season, the future of Eastbourne is again up in the air.

It will definitely take place next year and Eastbourne Borough Council is planning a huge revamp of Devonshire Park and the nearby Congress Theatre in order to encourage the tennis powers that be to stay committed to the town.

Judging by the crowds at Devonshire Park over the last week though it remains as popular as ever.