40 LOVE History: Eastbourne
Published June 19, 2013 12:01
EASTBOURNE, England - The Aegon International is one of the longest-running tournaments on the WTA calendar, held all but one year since its first year in 1974 (there was no tournament in 1977). A key - no, the key - lead-up event to Wimbledon, it boasts a phenomenal list of former champions.
The story couldn't be told without Martina Navratilova. Her domination of the lawns of the All-England Club is well known but she was even more dominant on the lawns of Devonshire Park, winning the title an astonishing 11 times - 1978, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and finally 1993. It is the second-most times any player has won the same event in the history of the WTA - the most times actually goes to Navratilova as well, as she conquered Chicago a clean dozen times.
Navratilova won the Eastbourne crowds over again in the early 2000s - after seven and a half years in retirement from singles, she came back to the individual discipline at this very tournament in 2002, winning her first round match before falling to Daniela Hantuchova in the second round, 26 62 62. She would play six more tournaments in the 2000s, the last one coming in 's-Hertogenbosch in 2005.
The WTA legend also won the doubles title six times, alongside longtime doubles partner Pam Shriver.
Navratilova wasn't the only former No.1 to win in Eastbourne, though - Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Caroline Wozniacki all did it. And so have some No.2s - Virginia Wade, Jana Novotna, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska.
Novotna was actually the last player to achieve the Eastbourne-Wimbledon double, doing it in 1998, beating Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in the final here and then Nathalie Tauziat in the final over in SW19.
As for the current WTA stars, Eastbourne is a very significant landmark for what has become one of the great comebacks of our time - it has been exactly two years since Serena Williams came back from a year-long injury and illness lay-off at this tournament, such a difficult year that she has said she wasn't sure if she would ever even come back. But she did - and she chose Eastbourne for the stage.
"I wanted to play Roland Garros, but it didn't quite work out," Williams said. "I don't usually play warm-up tournaments before Wimbledon. But I think it was smart for me to play one - and where better to play than Eastbourne? I've played here before and have had some halfway decent results here."
"Serena has done an unbelievable job coming back after almost a year of not playing," Zvonareva said after the three-hour, 12-minute nail-biter. "She spent more than three hours on the court today playing some really unbelievable tennis. She's a great champion and I have a lot of respect for her."
"It was a good two matches for me. I couldn't be happier with the amount of tennis I've played here," Williams said. "I can do better, but that's what's so comforting, is I know I can do so much better, and I'm so close to being there. One or two points and I could have won. That's just me not playing, not even holding a racquet for over eight months, then picking one up and being able to do that."
Before the year-long lay-off between July 2010 and June 2011, Williams had a career record of 474-101 (roughly a 5:1 ratio). Since coming back, the World No.1 has gone 123-9 (roughly a 14:1 ratio).
Situated in the heart of Eastbourne among trees and gardens, the Devonshire Park venue is only minutes away from the town center and serene seafront, making it an ideal setting for the event.