The best of British

James Ward
James Ward

Homegrown tennis stars are hoping to grace the courts at Devonshire Park again this year, with Heather Watson leading the pack of British talent.

The promising starlet from Guernsey, who qualified for the tournament in 2010 and received a wildcard entry last year, could have another bite at the cherry if she’s handed a wildcard again this year.

Watson reached the second round in 2010, beating then world number 48 Aleksandra Wozniak before losing to former world number one Victoria Azarenka.

Her stint in the tournament last year was ended in the first round by world number 13 Vera Zvonareva.

Currently ranked at number 111 in the world, Watson, who lives and trains in Florida, won gold at the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games and has one major title to her name after winning the 2009 US Open Juniors.

The 20-year-old also reached the second round of the French Open in 2011 and again earlier this year.

Watson, who reached number three in the world in the ITF Junior rankings, is currently the British seniors women’s number three behind Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong.

Baltacha, at number 91 in the world, is also hoping to head to Eastbourne this summer thanks to a wildcard.

The British senior women’s number one, who was born to a Ukrainian background but lives in Ipswich, qualified for the Eastbourne International back in 2001 but couldn’t get past the first round.

Like Watson, Baltacha was given a wildcard entry into last year’s tournament and managed to progress to the second round before defeat to world number two Victoria Azarenka.

The 28-year-old, who has reached the third round of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, will no doubt fancy her chances of an upset in the tournament after a successful start to 2012 with the GB Federation Cup team.

Hoping to be flying the British flag in the men’s draw is James Ward, an exciting prospect to come from our country’s capital city.

Born and bred in London, the 25-year-old is ranked at British number two behind Andy Murray, and 171 in the world.

Ward has performed notably well in Eastbourne in the past, reaching the quarter-finals in 2010. He beat Feliciano Lopez and Rainer Schuttler on his way to the final eight after being given a wildcard entry into the tournament.

Last year, he was promoted to the main draw by special exemption but failed to progress past the first round, losing to eventual finalist Janko Tipsarevic.

However, later that year he recorded the best achievement of his career to date by reaching the semi-finals of the Queen’s Club Championships in his home city.

Entered as a wildcard, he beat fellow Englishman Daniel Cox on his way to the final four but eventually lost out to finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

James Ward could be joined in the men’s draw by Jamie Baker, another possible wildcard entrant into this year’s tournament.

Baker received a wildcard into the 2010 AEGON International but lost in the first round to Alexandr Dolgopolov, the same player who knocked out James Ward.

The Glaswegian is currently ranked at a career high of 203 in the world and will be hoping entry into the Eastbourne International will provide him with a successful warm-up to Wimbledon – the Grand Slam tournament he’s performed the best in by reaching the first round on four occasions.

Another Brit to keep an eye out for is youngster Oliver Golding.

The promising teenager from London has excelled on the junior tennis stage, winning the 2011 US Open Junior tournament and reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon at the same level.

He can also boast a gold medal at the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics in the doubles category, partnering Czech Jiri Vesely.

Having only turned professional last year, he’s currently ranked at 487 in the world but is tipped to climb the rankings after setting the junior circuit alight.

So far he has performed in one non-junior event - the Queen’s Club Championships in London last year - but lost in the first round to Nicolas Mahut.

From the promising youngsters hoping to burst onto the scene to the more experienced of our country’s representatives, the hopes of an upset and a British success seem to be in as good hands as ever ahead of this year’s tournament.