EASTBOURNE, England - Since 1974, the week prior to Wimbledon has seen the world's finest tennis players assemble in the sleepy seaside town of Eastbourne looking to add the finishing touches to their grass court preparations. And this year will be no different, as five of the world's Top 10 head to the coast for the AEGON International.
Headlining the tournament, staged at the Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis Club, will be Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova, both of whom know how invaluable a good showing in Eastbourne can be to hopes of going deep at SW19.
Twelve months ago Petra Kvitova finished runner-up here before going one better a fortnight later on Centre Court. And after an up and down season, the World No.4 will be looking to use this week to fine tune her powerful game once again, opening up with a tricky assignment against 2010 champion Ekaterina Makarova.
Should Kvitova negotiate this test, things are unlikely to get any easier, with Caroline Wozniacki, another former winner, and the big-hitting Angelique Kerber both likely to lie in wait.
Saturday's draw also threw a potential banana skin in the direction of Radwanska, who begins her quest to recapture the title she won in 2008 with a first round match against former Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova. The other seeds in the Pole's half are defending champion Marion Bartoli, former runner-up Daniela Hantuchova and Lucie Safarova.
One player who will not be bothering any of the favorites, though, is Ana Ivanovic, whose campaign ended before a ball was struck in anger when a groin strain forced her to withdraw from the tournament.
"I came here early to practice and I've been hitting the ball well, but I haven't been able to play points," Ivanovic said. "I hurt my groin at the French Open and it's very tight.
"I need to do more physiotherapy in the next few days and hopefully by the end of the week my movement will be back to normal and I can play to full intensity and I hope to be back soon."