Tennis bosses serve blow to Eastbourne

First published in News by

Sussex's international tennis tournament is set to leave Eastbourne in favour of London.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has announced the International Women's Open could move from Devonshire Park to the capital.

LTA officials are eyeing up the capital because it would attract massive sponsorship deals from the city's big businesses.

But local politicians have pledged to fight the move to prevent the shattering blow to the local economy the loss of the event could cause.

The tournament acts as a major tourism draw for the town and brings millions of pounds of spending to local businesses.

Last year the tournament's sponsor, Hastings Direct, withdrew its backing worth £350,000.

The tournament will make a £500,000 loss this year despite attendance figures being higher than in recent years.

Eastbourne is one of a number of venues including Nottingham and Edgbaston which could lose a major international tournament.

The LTA is reviewing all tournaments as part of the Blueprint for British Tennis which was published last year.

It outlines a need to review the competitive structure of international events to maximise commercial revenue.

The tournament will return next year but it could be the last time people see Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters on their doorstep.

LTA chief executive Roger Draper said: "Eastbourne is in a strong position because we are committed to its tennis.

"But we are considering all our other options including hosting a women's event in London in the future.

"Commercially it is easier to get sponsorship in London because most of the corporations are based there and then there is the 2012 Olympics.

"We actually lose money on the event in Eastbourne.

"While tennis is our number one priority we are also thinking about commercial returns."

The event has been held at Eastbourne's Devonshire Park since 1975.

Most of the big stars in the women's game use the tournament as preparation on grass ahead of the SW19 showpiece.

Aside from potential revenue returns, Mr Draper said player power was another reason the LTA was looking at moving the tournament to London.

He said: "In the last few years we have had the top players in the world play in Eastbourne.

"In terms of Wimbledon preparation, the players say it is good.

"But a lot of players would like to go to London and prepare for the championship at a venue closer to Wimbledon."

The LTA will announce its decision in September.

The overall attendance figure on the eve of the final but including pre-booked final tickets was 35,424, almost 1,000 up on last year.

Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson said: "The tennis is an institution in Eastbourne and I hope the council will be fighting to keep it.

"It would be a major blow to lose it so I hope the council has plans in place to make sure it does not happen."

Eastbourne Borough Council bosses will meet regularly with the LTA before September.

They will emphasise the tournament's relaxed atmosphere and the town's tourism infrastructure which can accommodate thousands of supporters.

Council leader David Tutt said: "It would be a great shame to lose the tennis because it is a major part of our events calendar.

"It is worth millions of pounds to the Eastbourne economy and raises the town's profile.

"We are hoping to persuade the LTA Eastbourne should be a key venue for tennis.

"All the feedback from the players suggests they really enjoy coming and we hope the LTA will take it on board when they make their decision.

"If we lost the tennis we would come though it but we would need to find an alternative major event to replace it."

The world's number one player has expressed her desire for the tournament to remain in Eastbourne.

Belgian star Justine Henin said: "I don't know what is going to happen but I like this tournament.

"It is good to play here before Wimbledon and a lot of players like it.

"It is not easy to make everyone happy - the tournament, the players and the organisers."

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