The East Sussex coastal town of Eastbourne plays host to a star-studded cast, as many of the world’s top players, continue their preparations with Wimbledon just over a week away.
Eight of the world’s top ten women are in town, which includes British number one, Johanna Konta.
The twenty-six-year old is based in Eastbourne, and has already reached a grass court final in Nottingham this month, but then suffered an early exit in Birmingham to the impressive Coco Vandeweghe.
Konta remains happy with her progress though, and would dearly love a deep run in front of her home support.
The last British player to have won this event, though, was Virginia Wade in 1975.
From a punting perspective, the top players can normally be avoided here, as any tweak they may suffer will see them often withdraw from the event – with Wimbledon just around the corner.
It is likely to expect some retirements during the week.
And it will be interesting to see how the wildcard Simona Halep progresses, after a niggling ankle problem.
I have always been an admirer of the sheer power of the Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova.
This is her first grass court event of the season (she often plays in more), but the big serving twenty-five year old will be keen to play some matches during the week.
She arrives here fresh, and the faster courts, due to the UK’s recent heatwave, should play into her hands.
Not only has she served more aces than any other player on the tour this season (249 in total), but she has an immense forehand too.
Pliskova is now coached by David Kotyza, who you may recall, oversaw two Wimbledon titles for compatriot Petra Kvitova. Kotyza’s experience is invaluable, and could be the key appointment that could see Pliskova finally break her Grand Slam Singles duck, either at Wimbledon, or the US Open.
Expect a big week here.
Defending champion, Dominika Cibulkova, and world number one, Angelique Kerber, are both struggling with their form, so it might pay to take a look at the chances of Caroline Wozniacki.
The former world number one has been playing well this year, and did win this event in 2009.
My only reservation is that if the courts do play quick (which I do expect), then she may be overpowered by the big hitters.
Those comments also apply to Agnieszka Radwanska. The normally reliable Pole, has had a quiet season to date, but despite liking this surface, her game is based on astute shot-making and touch around the court.
She may not get that time during this event.
It is without doubt, the best ever women’s event at Devonshire Park, and I’ll take last year’s runner-up Karolina Pliskova to prevail;
There is one talking point dominating the men’s event this year, and that is the first appearance of twelve-time Grand Slam Singles Champion, Novak Djokovic.
The 30-year-old accepted a wildcard, and has changed his usual Wimbledon preparations, which would normally incorporate the Boodles exhibition event at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire.
Djokovic clearly wants more matches under his belt, and whilst he is head and shoulders the best player in the draw, I would prefer to look elsewhere for a potential winner.
The other wildcard is Gael Monfils, who is one of the most entertaining players on the circuit.
The mercurial thirty-year-old is debuting too, but despite his obvious talent, he’s difficult to predict.
The Americans could trump the opposition; thirty-two-year old John Isner, was knocked out early at Queens by Marin Cilic this week, but the huge serving American will be keen for a run at Eastbourne, following quite an impressive clay court campaign.
Isner’s game is built for the grass, but despite never faring that well at Wimbledon, the six-foot-ten American has won the Newport, Rhode Island grass court event twice, and I like his chances to serve his way to the latter stages in East Sussex, as he bids for a first title since Atlanta in 2015.
The fast courts should certainly play to his strengths.
Steve Johnson has had a very good twelve months, which has seen the Californian capture two titles (this grass court event – held in Nottingham last year, and a Houston clay court event in 2017).
Despite this, though, the recent sudden death of his Father (Steve Sr) has very much left its mark. It has understandably been a very emotional time for the twenty-seven-year old, and he did exceptionally well to reach the third round of the French Open, given his personal circumstances.
I wouldn’t rule out a good week in Eastbourne. Johnson made the second week at Wimbledon last year, and with a previous grass tournament already under his belt, he enjoys these conditions and is likely to perform well.
The veteran Feliciano Lopez is greatly respected; the thirty-five-year old left-hander has been in typically good form recently, and has won this title twice previously.
Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller is another player that thrives on this surface, and will arrive to Eastbourne on top of his game too.
Both players have extremely effective serves, which is so often the key on the grass.
And Andy Murray’s Australian Open conqueror, Mischa Zverev, is another to add to the shortlist.
A narrow defeat to his idol, Roger Federer, in Halle, was certainly no disgrace, and his serve and volley game ought to be suited to Eastbourne too.
Take a punt on John Isner to win the Eastbourne International.
For more odds, take a look at Grosvenor Sport’s tennis betting.