Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Roger Draper hopes to attract some of the world’s leading male talent to the AEGON International in Eastbourne in the years to come.
Draper spoke to Herald Sport following Thursday’s announcement that the tournament will remain in the town until 2013.
The future of the popular event, which has been held at Devonshire Park since 1974, had never been in explicit doubt, but talks between Eastbourne Borough Council and the LTA had been ongoing.
Last year’s men’s tournament was short on stars, but Draper is determined to bring the world’s top players to the south coast in future.
He said, “It’s always a slow burner, people forget that the women’s event has been here for years, so it has always attracted that quality field.
“With the men, we’ve got to get the locker room chat going around. I know men’s players who had probably never heard of Eastbourne a few years ago, they’re now talking positively about the event, but it’s going to take time.
“That’s why this announcement is important, so we can start planning ahead, not just for this year but for 2012, for 2013 as well, in terms of the player field and building the event and also the work we’re doing in the local community here. There’s a hell of a lot going on in the local schools, clubs, parks, to make sure as many people get involved in tennis as possible.”
But while only seven of the world’s top 50 men took part last year, the women’s field included plenty of familiar faces. Former US Open champion Kim Clijsters arrived at Devonshire Park along with world number one Caroline Wozniacki, as well as British trio Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson. And Draper expects many of the biggest names to return this year, as part of their Wimbledon preparations.
He said, “When you talk to the likes of Kim Clijsters, they like coming back to Eastbourne because it’s quite relaxed, she actually took her little girl over to the park to have a few hits.
They love that because the following week they’re in the cauldron of the championships at Wimbledon with the global media and so on, so it’s a good time to get tuned in on the grass courts but also relax and enjoy their tennis.”
Tickets for the event are on sale visit www.aegoninternational.