With the curtains closing on a mixed tournament at Devonshire Park this summer, ending five years without attracting the leading ATP stars, Nottingham is aiming to gain from Eastbourne’s relative failure.
Eastbourne attempted to become a mini-Wimbledon, and the location on the south coast of England prior to Wimbledon seemed an ideal preparation for the world’s leading players to hone their grass court skills after a lengthy clay court season.
However, despite the world’s top names from the WTA Tour gracing the Centre Court at Eastbourne over the years – seven out of the world’s top 20 are provisionally playing at the 2014 Aegon International – the men just haven’t seemed interested.
There have been a number of men’s big names – 2012 winner Andy Roddick from the United States and Australian ace Lleyton Hewitt – who were winding down their prestigious careers at Devonshire Park. Apart from these the players have not been household faces to the occasional fan that would have helped to sell tickets to the general public, simply also-rans from the world’s top 100.
Not so cordial
French resistance to the tournament came from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011, when the French ace played in a delayed final at Queen’s Club on the Monday and was on court at Eastbourne on the Tuesday.
Tsonga breezed past Russian Denis Istomin, but the following day looked disinterested as he fell to Czech veteran Radek Stepanek and won just five games. This meek defeat was followed by a few choice words blasting the tournament for allegedly “forcing” him to play on the Tuesday. And Tsonga then went on to reach the last four at 2011 Wimbledon.
Richard Gasquet, barring a recurring back injury, was set to finally make his Eastbourne debut after he was controversially banned in 2009 for a positive test that showed a small trace of cocaine. He was cleared to return to the ATP Tour following almost three months off the circuit, deemed to have only ingested cocaine through a kiss with a woman he had just met.
He missed the 2009 Aegon International but will be planning to make up for lost time as the firm favourite to win the 2014 Aegon International as the only confirmed player out of the world’s top 20.
The inability to get the Men’s event on the same high calibre as the Ladies event at Eastbourne has resulted in the LTA and sponsors Aegon calling the shots to generate a better field of players from the ATP Tour to warm up for Wimbledon.
So with the new three week gap between the French Open and Wimbledon as from next year, Nottingham will be offering nearly £1m in prize money for 16 days of grass court tennis in June 2015.
The 2015 Aegon WTA International is due to be played from 8-14, and whilst the Aegon International at Eastbourne takes place – with the draw doubled for the Ladies – the Aegon Nottingham tournament for the ATP Tour will start on 22 June.
The lure of world ranking points and prize money at the ATP250 event in Nottingham is expected to attract the world’s leading players, which Eastbourne has failed miserably to sign up.
Former British Davis Cup player Paul Hutchins, the Nottingham tournament director, said: “The prize money that will be on offer from next year is proof of Nottingham’s standing on the international calendar.
“Previously the Nottingham Open attracted some great tennis champions, and we can once again look forward to that calibre of interest returning for future ATP events in the city.
“Nottingham’s capacity to host so much grass court tennis is exceptional, and from next year it will be one of very few places in the world that stages separate Men’s and Women’s Tour events – a huge honour for Nottingham.
“Both the WTA and ATP events will be held during an extremely important time in the grass season, giving athletes either their first hit out on grass for the season or that all-important last chance to find form in preparation for Wimbledon.”