The 2021 Viking International Eastbourne is underway. Defending champion Karolina Pliskova, tournament debutantes Iga Swiatek, Bianca Andreescu, Coco Gauff and Kiki Bertens, who recently announced her impending retirement, spoke to the press ahead of their first-round matches. WTA Insider has the highlights from the press room.
The World No.9 is seeded No.4 in Eastbourne. It's been a quick turnaround for the Polish star, was playing in the Roland Garros doubles final less than 10 days ago.
"The first practices [on grass], I was out of the rhythm for sure and I think I hit more frames than during the whole season," Swiatek said. "So it was different. I felt like at the beginning I was pretty happy that it's something else. You don't feel that monotony that you felt for the whole season.
"But then I got more and more frustrated because the things that were working like, four days ago, aren't working. So I had to just pass that stage and right now I'm feeling better and better every day and I feel like I can actually play some clean shots and catch the ball pretty early, even though it's pretty fast.
A junior Wimbledon champion just three years ago, Swiatek is making her tournament debut in Eastbourne and is still looking for her first main draw win at Wimbledon, having lost in the first round in her debut in 2019.
"The footwork is different," Swiatek said. "You need to stay lower on your legs and that's pretty hard because I feel like I've been playing some intense tournaments and intense tennis since January, but this is the first time my legs are so sore, only after, like, three days on grass. You have to play lower, topspin isn't really working here.
"For sure it's going to be hard, but I also remember that with a good attitude and without any expectations, I could even play better than if I were prepared. I'm just trying to be loosened up and enjoy being here. I'm giving myself a little mental time off because I can actually play without expectations and that's fun, actually."
Iga Swiatek on Poland’s draw vs. Spain at #EURO2020: "I liked the attitude of the Polish team. They were basically sprinting for the 1st 2 minutes and I was like, whoa, I don't know if that's going to last. But they did a pretty good job and they didn't crack under pressure." pic.twitter.com/N5EVQKFr0I— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 21, 2021
The novelty of the grass season certainly helps with keeping the mind fresh as the 2020 Roland Garros champion continues her preparations. In many ways, the grass season is a welcome relief after a pressure-packed first six months of the season, which culminated with her title defense in Paris, where she returned to the quarterfinals. Already a champion twice this season, on the hardcourts of Adelaide and clay courts of Rome, a deep run on the grass would certainly boost her belief as an all-surface threat.
"In my mind, I feel sometimes like I'm on holidays because everything is so nice playing on the grass," Swiatek said. "It's something different and special. Obviously it's frustrating when you actually can't play your favorite tennis, but I was talking about it even a month ago, that on grass I'm not going to expect anything. So it's just fun and I'm trying to learn a bit more and not be annoyed by some tricky bounces."
Swiatek will face Britain's Heather Watson in the first round.
Two-time champion and reigning champion Karolina Pliskova says the abbreviated two-week grass season before Wimbledon will not necessarily favor the more experienced grass-court players, but may impact those who need more time to play themselves into form. Pliskova counts herself as one of the latter.
"I don't think it favors really anybody, because as I see it, the young girls are just without fear so they can go for it," Pliskova said. "I don't think this has any effect on it. Of course, it depends on what everybody did after Paris, but whoever stayed a bit longer, I think it's going to be difficult to adapt because they won't maybe play these tournaments before. Everybody's different.
"I'm a player who needs a bit more time to get used to some things. So it's not like I'm going to come to the surface and the next day I'm going to win the tournament. I need a couple of days. I know that. That's why I decided to play all of these tournaments right now. And I believe that gives me the best chance to play well in London."
Pliskova opens her title defense against Camila Giorgi.
After announcing her impending retirement last week, the former No.4 says she's ready to soak in her final grass season. But that doesn't mean her competitive fire will diminish when the first ball is struck.
"It's less pressure, to be honest, but still, once I'm out there I want to give it my all," Bertens said. "I think that's not going to change. I think if that changed, it's better for me to stop now.
"But no, I'll just give everything I still have. I put in all the work, but I also try to enjoy it. I know this is going to be my last Eastbourne. I know next week it's going to be my last Wimbledon. So we just make the best out of it and approach it maybe a little bit more relaxed. But once I step on the court it's the same as always."
Bertens faces lucky loser Shelby Rogers in the first round.
The last time Coco Gauff was on a grass court, she was lighting up Centre Court at Wimbledon. Gauff made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon in 2019 and proceeded to introduce her game and charisma to the world, defeating Venus Williams, Magdalena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog to make the Round of 16 as a 15-year-old.
Like Swiatek, despite her success that year, grass still takes some getting used to. To prepare for grass, Gauff has been training on the hardcourts at the Mouratoglou Academy since making her first major quarterfinal at Roland Garros two weeks ago.
"I've only done this transition, really, once in my life," Gauff said. "But for me, I personally like to do clay, hard and grass because I just feel like sometimes going straight from clay to grass might be a little bit dangerous because the movement is just completely different. At least on hardcourt, you know you're going to stop. On grass, sometimes you don't know if you're going to stop, you might slip a little bit.
"I think it's definitely an American way to train on hard before grass because we don't have grass courts in the U.S. and most of the time - this year is different because the French pushed back - but most of the time you would go back to the U.S. and then come back to get ready for Wimbledon. Most American players are trained on hard so that's what I did.
"I think it helps because the grass is just super fast and the hardcourts are the middle between clay and grass. So it's nice to meet the middle and then transition. That's my opinion, but other players like to do it differently."
Gauff faces No.7 seed Elise Mertens in the first round.
The Canadian star has seen her resilience and perspective tested over the past two years. The last time she played the main draw at Wimbledon she was ranked No.188 four years ago, when she made her Grand Slam debut in 2017 after successfully qualifying. Now she's the World No.7 and a major champion. But the trials have continued for the 21-year-old, who is making her Eastbourne debut this week.
"After doing so well in 2019, boom, I get injured, I'm off for six months," Andreescu told reporters when asked to recount her struggles. "I'm ready to play Indian Wells [last year], first tournament back, and then literally that tournament is when everything started. I was there for three days and everyone said it's canceled and I had to go back.
"I was just at home, sitting on my butt for, I don't know how long, like six, seven months. I was training for sure here and there, but it was a pandemic. There were so many restrictions.
"Then other things happened during that time, some health issues with my family and this and that. So it was super hard for me to deal with. I really tried to persevere through those moments. But then something else happened, which was the [hard] quarantine in Australia, and then the quarantine in Madrid, me catching Covid.
"So it's just like these things back and forth. To me, I try to have the mindset of everything happens for a reason, and it's kind of just helped me for the bigger picture and my purpose in life, and I want to try to take every moment as a positive in a way. Even though it could seem like the world is crashing down, I made sure to stay as grateful as I could, because other people have it way worse, so that really keeps me going. I try to have that big picture in mind all the time."
Seeded No.3 in Eastbourne, Andreescu will play American qualifier Christina McHale.