It's no stroll in Devonshire Park for Giorgi - nor her distinctive dad

Camila Giorgi’s father, who has always been her coach and mentor, cuts a distinctive figure around the tennis circuit. With his shock of frizzly greying hair, Sergio Giorgi could probably cut it in a Rolling Stones tribute band.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 12:49 pm
Updated Monday, 21st June 2021, 12:50 pm
Cori Gauff during a practice session during day two of the Viking International Eastbourne at Devonshire Park / Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Cori Gauff during a practice session during day two of the Viking International Eastbourne at Devonshire Park / Picture: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

“I love brilliant madness,” he once told an interviewer. “I hate commonness and clichés.”

Current protocols require a bit of distance between players and their coaches, so Signor Giorgi took his seat at the front of the South Stand, still close enough, no doubt, to let his opinions be known.

Signorina Giorgi, meanwhile, was cutting a dash of her own – a stylish dresser on court in clssic pink, and always a player with composure and focus. Across the net, Australian Ajla Tomljanovic was looking sharp and eager, and a close contest developed.

Camila Giorgi’s father, front row, watches the action

Ajla’s attacking shots possibly had the edge in fizz and velocity, but Camila is a cool, unflustered operator and would not be shaken from her game plan. When you don’t have overwhelming strength or physique, you have to get pretty much everything else right: mobility, technique, shot selection, temperament - and the Italian player checks those boxes.

The first set was knife-edge: Ajla served to stay in it at 5-6, but at 15-30 Camila sensed a break. Ajla hauled it back to a 40-30 game point but then struck an easy winner too long, and we went to three achingly tight deuces before Giorgi clinched the set 7-5.

An absorbing second set saw Tomljanovic striving to take back control, but Giorgi’s excellent shot placement was often keeping the Aussie back behind the baseline. Service games were traded until a spectacular point earned Giorgi the crucial break for 4-2, leaving a brave Tomljanovic with too little time to break back, and the Italian clinched victory by 6-3.

No stroll in the park, then, for Camila Giorgi – but fine, high-class tennis from both ladies. And a dubious reward: in the main draw, Giorgi now faces Karolina Pliskova, one of the top seeds and the Eastbourne title holder from 2019. She’ll need a dash of that “brilliant madness” prescribed by her Dad.

VIRTUAL SUCCESS

Now then, sports reporters of my vintage grew up, many decades ago, with a biro and a tatty notebook. Technology was a wind-up stopwatch, and a Zoom was one of those rocket-shaped ice lollies with three flavours. But the world has raced ahead and we are all interconnected at warp speed. Ironically, Covid protocols currently rule out face-to-face player interviews, but instead we have terrific virtual access.

So on Sunday, I had the chance to speak with the likes of Karolina Pliskova, Coco Gauff and Kiki Bertens. My own Zoom skills are still somewhere at the level of the average parish councillor in Cheshire, and I kept muting when I needed to unmute. But those three players had plenty to say, and from three different perspectives.

Pliskova – twice a title winner at Eastbourne – is now approaching the status of tennis royalty and clearly finds her position among the top seeds to be a privilege, and an enjoyable challenge, knowing that she is there to be toppled. Coco is a really engaging character, still a quite relaxed and unabashed teen, and wearing her wunderkind status lightly. She actually played Eastbourne before in the Mo Connolly junior tournaments, and her approach to tennis and to life remains refreshingly youthful.

And Kiki Bertens has that distinctive Dutch capacity to treat everyone as equals and to take all the tension out of life. Kiki has just this week announced her plans to retire – at a ripe old 29 – from top class tennis, and we really will miss her civilised and cheerful presence on the WTA tour. Eastbourne loves her to bits, and she has always enjoyed success here.

What of the future, I wondered? A Kiki Bertens tennis academy, or a new role as a pundit? Nothing concrete yet. I’d say she will either run a tennis-themed Amsterdam cafe, or take up politics and finish up as Dutch Prime Minister – and she’d make an excellent job of either. But meanwhile, there is a small matter of the Viking International title to contest.

An enjoyable weekend, then, in the summer sun – and though players, organisers and spectators alike had been casting anxious glances at the weather forecast, we know our coastal weather pretty well. Whatever Tuesday’s torrents might throw at us, the rest of the week is just getting better and better.