If I were a tennis player, the tournament in Eastbourne would be what I’d consider my home tournament.
Every year the Devonshire Lawn Tennis Club plays host to dozens of top players and every year I’m left in disbelief at how many of the sport’s best head down to my home of East Sussex.
If you’ve never been to the Eastbourne tournament, I’ve found it to be so much more intimate and relaxed than its successor in the British grass season calendar, Wimbledon.
The grounds are of course a lot smaller but that allows you get up close and personal with some of the best tennis players in the world.
The two biggest show courts where all the best matches are contested, Centre Court and Court One, stand opposite each other with a walkway in the middle.
My favourite part of the tournament is behind these courts where there are some deck chairs on the grass, a Pimm’s tent (a British tennis must-have!) and a big screen to watch the tennis, all in front of the practice courts and a few smaller outside show courts.
The practice courts is where the magic really happens, and they’re the reason that I believe Eastbourne is a tournament where you don’t need a ticket for a main show court to enjoy it and see the best of the best.
If a player is in the draw of the tournament, they’ll have to come and practice, and what better place to watch a handful of the top ranked men and women in tennis having a hit than sat on the grass, Pimm’s in hand, under the sunshine? Weather permitting of course, this is British summertime after all.
It was on these practice courts last year where I saw Andy Murray (left) having a hit with his team whilst trying to navigate his first comeback to tennis after a hip injury I heard young star Denis Shapovalov receiving some invaluable advice from his then-coach Martin Laurendeau and watched former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki joke with her dad Piotr, who also happens to be her coach.
The atmosphere is so relaxed in Eastbourne that after the players have had their practice sessions, they’ll usually walk around the grounds and take some time to chat to the spectators that have been watching and admiring them, signing balls and taking photos.
I met the ‘double Dashas’, Daria Kasatkina and Daria Gavrilova in Eastbourne last year and they were both in great spirits and happy to talk. Gavrilova and I laughed about a food account she had on Instagram at the time and having attended the tournament with my Russian-speaking mother, I went to tell her something before realising she was already occupied, chatting to the young Russian star Kasatkina and her brother in their native language. You get to see some weird and wonderful things you’d probably never get to see at any other tournament – I’ve seen young ATP star Daniil Medvedev getting a resistance band workout in on a patch of grass next to the deck chairs, umpire Gianluca Moscarella walking around the grounds singing in Italian, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka sat on a small, plastic fold-out chair watching a WTA match on a small show court.
I could not recommend attending the Eastbourne tournament enough, it’s unlike any other I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a lot of tennis.
The experiences you have with the players at Eastbourne are unique thanks to the tournament’s welcoming and easy-going nature and I’ll say it again, every year I still can’t believe that the greats of the game make a stop in Sussex in the lead up to Wimbledon.