Your survival guide for Eastbourne Tennis week
Braced for a busy week? Kevin Anderson – who might just be spending ninety hours in the next nine days at the Nature Valley tournament – offers a survival guide…
Welcome, folks, to possibly the most distinctive week of tennis in the world. The WTA tour takes in four Grand Slams, several other top-ranked tournaments – most of them in major world cities – and a whole pyramid of supporting events in smaller venues. Like all of them, the Eastbourne tournament is a masterpiece of logistics and planning, and a stage for the world’s very best players. But it has a style and character all its own.
Some of the other international venues – all of which have their merits of course – are huge, purpose-built and out of town. The Devonshire Park is tucked in the very heart of our town, nestled alongside theatres and art gallery, and little more than an over-hit forehand volley from the sea. It’s probably the only venue where a game can be interrupted by swooping seagulls.
Players, officials and spectators alike can stroll from hotel or railway station, come through the gates, and instantly find themselves part of the action and the atmosphere. Our town being the “Village Eastbourne” that it is, you will probably bump into somebody you know. Office groups and lunch parties will be enjoying a day out, and schoolteachers will be obsessively counting heads. The local tennis clubs and charities have their stands, and everybody wears a smile.
In fairness, there are other venues which enjoy a similar jostle. The outside courts at Wimbledon always have that feel of eager enthusiasm. But for closeness of action, the Devonshire Park has no equal. Players on the tour are all used to playing – especially in the early days of a tournament week – in front of sparse arenas with far more empty seats than spectators. Not here: outside courts at the Devonshire Park will be lined with eager tennis-watchers who are close enough to offer a bottle of water to a weary player (no need, though: the ball kids will sort all that!). And both Centre Court and Court One will be packed.
You honestly can’t beat it. If you are still wavering, go on, grab a ground pass for Saturday or Sunday. You’ll have a ball.
Planning for your Devonshire Day? New to the Nature Valley? Some hints to help you enjoy…
- Arrive in good time. Stewards will need to check your ticket and check your bag. Five minutes in a queue is a small price to pay. Oh, and if you plan to picnic, leave your knives behind, or be prepared to manage with some flimsy plastic ones. By the end of last year’s tournament, the security staff had amassed a huge boxful of lethal-looking implements – brought in all innocence, of course, but safety must come first.
- Do a bit of planning. The lists of players and draws may not mean much until you put faces to the names and personalities to the players. The WTA, LTA and Nature Valley websites are easy to find, and updated with live scores, results and schedules. Adopt a player; or follow all the Brits; or check out the youngsters in qualifying who, now only 19 or 20, will one day climb above Halep and Wozniacki in the rankings….
- Plan for all weathers. Marvellously, after a dismal early summer, our local weather has settled down in the nick of time. But heck, this is England, and a full day at the Devonshire Park might still encompass burning sun, a brisk sea breeze or even a shower. Sun-hat, sunscreen, sunglasses – but also a sweater – should see you through, when you simply can’t tear yourself away from that marathon Konta-versus-Halep three-setter!
- Respect the etiquette. Lots of visitors are casual tennis-watchers, and there’s nowt wrong with that. But do be aware that you may only change seats when the players change ends. During play, a single excited yell, or a single beeping mobile phone, can destroy the tensest rally.
- Listen up for Nouni. The world’s best-known umpire and the Voice of the Tennis Court, Frenchman Kader Nouni should be climbing into the chair once again at the Devonshire Park, and his rich sonorous tones will warm your heart. If Kader ever burst into song, he would be somewhere between Pavarotti and Barry White.
- Watch the big screens. Centre Court is close to sold-out on most days, but matches are shown live, so you can still keep up with the best action while sipping a drink on the lawns.
- Spot a celeb. Well, a tennis celeb at any rate: many of the Great and the Good pop down for the Eastbourne week, some of them with media teams. I haven’t checked my TV schedules but the likes of Annabel Croft, Andrew Castle and Sue Barker generally feature. All super people and, just like you, in love with the sport. (Oh, and if you spot Jo Durie, the wonderful Grande Dame of British tennis, try not to ask about her appearance on Pointless. She scored rather high...)
- Hug a steward. Well, don’t actually hug one, unless she happens to be your auntie. But this this amazing week could not function without the tireless and selfless work of volunteers. The stewards are largely local, unpaid and expert. They can point you to the loos, explain the order of play, possibly even tell you the time of the last train back to London. And they will do it courteously, patiently and with an unfailing smile.
- Admire the skills of the ball crews. The kids from Cavendish and Roedean Moira House have been training for weeks and months, and they are flawlessly efficient. One senior player last year described them as the best ball crews on the whole WTA Tour. Well done, guys – and if it’s a particularly hot and tiring afternoon, just remember you could be doing Double Maths…
It all adds up. The best action in the best venue: Eastbourne Tennis is here again!