Flaming June? It's flaming frustrating for all at the Eastbourne tennis
For the first time in several years, the Devonshire Park tournament lost a complete day to the weather. We had been warned in the forecasts, and Monday – the summer solstice of all days – dawned grey and very damp.
On the press side, we had planned some chunks of coverage in the BBC Radio Sussex Breakfast show. They often say that on radio, the pictures are better, but there is a limit to the amount of cheerful spin you can give to a cheerless morning in the rain….
Inside the grounds, most things were on hold. Around 9.00am, the skies did seem to be lightening a little, and – with that remarkable British spirit that conjures a smile in the face of adversity – a queue of ticket-holders was beginning to form. Tentatively, a possible 11.00am start was even being mentioned.
It didn’t last. A curtain of rain was now falling on the lush green grass – although not actually on the playing courts, which can be covered these days with impressive state-of-the art fabric domes, allowing the water to run off, rather than soak through.
This, surely, was the low point of the week: play abandoned, frustration for players, frantic re-scheduling tasks for the officials, a day totally lost for the food bars and other outlets. And for spectators who had booked weeks ahead, a chilly bleak day by the seaside. Have faith: the rest of the week is warm and blissfully dry.
BRITS AND ADOPTIVE BRITS
The mood was not exactly lifted by the news of Cam Norrie’s withdrawal. Cam has enjoyed a superb season, but he has now been victim of his own success. A storming week at Queens, full of energised and technically brilliant performances in both singles and doubles, had left Cam drained, and needing to build back better for SW19 next week.
Already deprived of our local favourite Jo Konta, we Brits and we local fans really needed – and still need – someone to shout for. Well, the early matches scheduled for Tuesday morning will have brought the promising figure of Jay Clarke to Court One and ever-improving Harriet Dart to Court Two. And later on Tuesday, an Eastbourne favourite Heather Watson – fresh from two super weeks on the grass of Nottingham and Edgbaston – was due to take on one of the world’s rising stars, Iga Swiatek.
It’s a lovely thought, but don’t count on a British player lifting either of the singles trophies this week. The field is fearsomely strong. But one of the joys of our knowledgeable, fair-minded Devonshire Park crowd is the capacity to adopt. They will take to their hearts any player, from Kazakstan or Colombia or Canada, who plays his or her heart out. They will seek out the underdog or the outsider who battled through qualifying, and will raise her with an extra burst of applause.
The other delight is in spotting the newcomer – the unexpected run to the quarter-final by a player you’d never heard of, and whose name you can only just pronounce. (I speak from experience. Try delivering a radio report with Rybakina, Pavlyuchenkova and Putintseva on the notepad in front of you…). I recall Aryna Sabalenka, then unknown except to the cognoscenti, blasting her way through to an Eastbourne final three or four years ago. Now she sits proudly at No4 in the world.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
It takes a village, the Americans like to say. They usually tack on a phrase like “to raise a child”, but right now I am finding another slant. The whole Devonshire Park complex is a little village. This year, of course, it has too many absent residents, with crowd numbers decimated, and trade and charity tents few and far between. but we can’t help that. And the spirit is exactly that of a rather big village.
You nod and smile at people you hardly know. If you’re a spectator, you share an opinion – face masks permitting – with someone you’ve never met. And if you are working here, whether salaried or volunteer, you have that busy sense of purpose. It’s rather like a village fete, multiplied up fifty times. We’re Sussex, we won’t be druv, but we will pull together, and show the world (oh yes, we’re on BBC2 all week) the very best side of this funny old Village Eastbourne.