Tennis fans echo Andy Roddick’s high praise

AEGON Eastbourne Tennis Championship. June 20th 2012 E25087N'Children from St. Bedes School

AEGON Eastbourne Tennis Championship. June 20th 2012 E25087N'Children from St. Bedes School

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According to Andy Roddick, one of the best things about Eastbourne is the fans.

The American star was full of praise for the town and its tennis supporters when he spoke after his Wednesday afternoon victory over Jeremy Chardy.

The former World No.1 and 2003 US Open winner said he had been bowled over by his first visit to Eastbourne.

“The tournament were kind enough to offer me an invite and I’m very pleased to be here. It’s a great tournament and more relaxed than others on the circuit.

“I wouldn’t be able to walk to my matches if I was at Wimbledon, that’s for sure.”

“The community really gets behind it and supports the event. It’s good fun and I’m having a good time here.”

And it was clear he is not the only one enjoying their time here.

Fans have turned out in their thousands since the tournament got underway last week, including large numbers of out-of-towners keen to sample top-quality tennis in the sun.

One of those was William Healy who had driven up from his home in Somerset for the entire tournament. Having turned up with a centre court ticket for Wednesday, he was excited about the day’s play and said he loved the atmosphere at Devonshire Park.

“I have really enjoyed it so far,” he told the Herald. “I am a big Kim Clijsters fan and in some ways it is nice that she isn’t here because it means I can enjoy watching different players without having someone to cheer for.

“The players seem to enjoy it here and are very approachable. I used to come to Eastbourne when I was younger and really love the town. To see tennis in the sort of weather we have had this week and in such a nice setting has been brilliant.”

Jeremy Graham, from Gloucestershire, was another far flung fan returned to Eastbourne for the tennis. Although, as he explained, his experiences of the Devonshire Park ground were from the other side of the white lines. “I played in a veterans tournament here and decided to come back.

“It is a lovely place. I usually go to Roehampton but thought I would try Eastbourne and I have not been disappointed.”

And there was even higher praise from a group of Londoners sipping champagne who said it was the first time they had been to the Eastbourne’s tennis tournament but thought it had a better atmosphere than Wimbledon.

Steve Hackney, who lives in Richmond-on-Thames, said, “You feel closer to the players.

“There is a more laid back atmosphere and I think it is much more about the tennis.”

His friend Olivia Duggal added, “It is a really nice alternative to Wimbledon.”

Sisters Barbara and Vera, from Essex, were equally impressed. Barbara said, “We go to Wimbledon but this is far more intimate and it is great to see the players just walking around in among the fans.

“And as well as the tennis we took a bus out to Beachy Head. We are really enjoying out time here.”

Elsewhere father and daughter Les and Mary Goodwin were making their annual trip to the tournament with Louis Berks. The trio said they were excited by the prospect of a top day’s tennis and delighted the weather was so good.

Les said, “We have been looking forward to coming and the weather looks great so hopefully we will see some great tennis.”

There were plenty of local fans watching as well. Susie Hall encouraged her friendly Jenny James to visit from Haywards Heath for the day and both ladies said they were particularly looking forward to watching Roddick.

And, even before play started, they were already having a better time than last year. Susie said, “We came last year and did not get to see any tennis because of weather. That just means we have stored up all our excitement for an extra year.”

One area entirely dominated by Eastbournians was the ball boys and girls. Made up of students from Cavendish and Moira House, the youngsters had been training since back in February.

Tom Green, 14, said playing such a key role in proceedings was “a great experience” and added that the majority of players had been really nice to the students, who are aged between 11 and 17.

Zoe Langford, also 14, said she looked forward to Eastbourne’s tennis showcase every year.

“This is my third time and it has been so good.” The highlight of her week had been helping out during one of Jamie Murray’s matches although added that he didn’t enjoy it quite as much – losing his doubles match in front of a bumper crowd.

The experience is one all the young helpers clearly enjoy and remember fondly.

A group of former Cavendish School pupils, now at various universities across the country, got together for the tournament and were enjoying a sunny picnic on Wednesday – including Hannah Robinson and Stephanie Simmons who had been ball girls at Devonshire Park when they were at Cavendish.

The support staff though does not end with the ball boys and girls. A small army of volunteers and temporary workers have helped things run smoothly.

One of those, Neil Parmenter, has been selling programmes and marshalling at the tennis. He said, “It is fantastic. I have been doing the tennis for about ten years and it is a great event to work at.

“The atmosphere is so laid back and it is one of the only event where we never get any trouble. You get to see all the players walking around. You wouldn’t get within a mile of them at Wimbledon.”