Eastbourne tennis week: The returners, form players, new generation and outsiders

As international tennis returns to Eastbourne, we look at those likely to make the headlines.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 7:50 am
Aryna Sabalenka / Picture: Getty
Aryna Sabalenka / Picture: Getty

THE RETURNERS

Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Elise Mertens, Kiki Bertens, Belinda Bencic., Madison Keys, among others.

All of these ladies have proven pedigree, and have graced the Devonshire’s green lawns before. Pliskova, the left-hander of the Czech twin sisters, is a twice former Eastbourne champion, defeating Angelique Kerber in 2019. Bencic was just 18 when she stunningly lifted the trophy in 2015 – one year after the ever-popular Madison Keys. One not coming back this year is hometown favourite Johanna Konta, who has withdrawn with concerns over a knee injury.

Coco Gauff / Picture: Getty

THE FORM PLAYERS

Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Rybakina.

Injuries to Ash Barty and Simona Halep, and the personal issues of Naomi Osaka, currently leave empty spaces at the top of the rankings. The French Open, earlier this month, saw quarter-finals without a single player familiar to the casual follower – and yet the quality of play was fabulous.

At Roland Garros, Sabalenka found herself at one point the highest-ranked seed left, and she might have gone on to win that Grand Slam. At Eastbourne 2018 she surprised everyone – including perhaps herself – with fearless, blistering performances all the way to the final.

Elise Mertens / Picture: Getty

Ons Jabeur is another tough competitor with a style of her own, and hard to beat, who looked in good shape in Paris, and has notched up further impressive wins in Birmingham.

But the French Open was also the stage for a number of superb young rising stars, many from Eastern Europe. Catching the eye in particular were two who will bring their razor-sharp form to Eastbourne. Elena Rybakina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – who happen also to be doubles partners – fought out a magnificent quarter-final which would have graced the Roland Garros final itself. If these two go deep into the Viking International week, start fighting for a ticket, or check the TV schedules!

THE NEW GENERATION

Coco Gauff, Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek, Amanda Animisova

They are, no doubt, all hip-hop and Instagram – but they have other ambitions. To call them youngsters sounds a bit disparaging, but in current women’s tennis, age is irrelevant. Players in their teens – not even alive when Serena claimed her first title – are sizzling their way around the WTA tour, brushing aside seasoned opponents, and winning major tournaments.

The Devonshire Park will drop its collective jaw at the speed and loping athleticism of Coco Gauff, the stylish composure of Iga Swiatek , the focus and mental game of Bianca Andreescu, and at Amanda Animisova, stepping now beyond her “New Sharapova” tag with maturity beyond her 19 years. Seriously, any one of those young ladies could be lifting the trophy on Saturday week.

OUTSIDERS TO WATCH

Anett Kontaveit, Daria Kasatkina, Jelena Ostapenko

At a tournament as important as Eastbourne, nobody signs to make up the numbers. Watch out for Kontaveit, Kasatkina, Ostapenka, all three of them experienced, talented and underrated at 31, 36 and 44 in the WTA rankings. Not that those rankings are incorrect – just that they reflect the confused and patched-up 2021 tennis calendar, full of quarantines and scaled-down schedules. Players are choosing their tournaments more carefully, rather than racing from one airport to the next. Anett, Daria and Jelena have opted for Eastbourne, and they’d love to stay all week...

THE WINNER?

Choose from Sabalenka, Pliskova, Pavlyuchenkova, Gauff, Rybakina, Swiatek, Ostapenko. The Viking International title winner 2021? Go on, run yourselves a little office sweepstake: your hunch is as good as ours!

See all the Viking International tennis previews in the Eastbourne Herald - out today - and keep up to date with the goings-on at Devonshire Park through the week on this website and in next week's Herald