Tennis great Martina Navratilova has backed the fight to save a tournament which brings thousands to the local economy.

Plans to scale back the Eastbourne International tournament, which often plays host to the top flight of the sport, have been met with opposition amid fears livelihoods depending on it could be ruined.

Former world number one Martina, who holds the most singles titles at Eastbourne, said the shift would be a shame and praised Devonshire Park's excellent grass courts.

In a tweet she said: "That would be a shame. Those grass courts are absolutely fantastic!"

The Eastbourne International takes place the week before Wimbledon and attracts some of the top women players to Devonshire Park. This could all change as the Lawn Tennis Association plans to downgrade the event from the 500 category to a 250.

This means the number of high-level players taking part is restricted to just three of the top 30 and the prize pot is reduced.

The Argus: Crowds at the tournament in 2020Crowds at the tournament in 2020

Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell called a meeting with LTA events boss Chris Pollard along with borough council leader Stephen Holt last week.

"This event is a jewel in the Eastbourne hospitality crown," she said in the run up to the tournament's 50th year.

"The success of the sector and the livelihoods it supports depends on it."

The 500-level tournament could move to the Queen's Club in London as soon as 2025. Queen's has not seen women's tennis since 1973.

The LTA is waiting for feedback from the ATP Tour and the Women's Tennis Association before a decision is confirmed.

The Argus: Caroline Ansell MPCaroline Ansell MP

Ms Ansell said the LTA expects no loss in audience for the Eastbourne event with 90 per cent of tickets being sold before the players are announced.

But she added: "I’m not too sure about this - the public have been buying tickets with a pretty solid expectation there would be top players and I can’t see how media coverage or sponsorship can be anything less than hit.

"Eastbourne is watched by 20 million globally, putting our town truly on the map.

"Our courts are world class and award winning. Our setting is beautiful, intimate and loved by players and spectators but total spectator capacity admissions at Eastbourne in 2023 were 60 per cent of those at Queen's.

"I will keep making the case for top level sporting events to be hosted in all parts of the country and we need to keep talking up Eastbourne – for tennis, and as a top visitor destination in its own right. It’s important."

The Argus: The Queen's ClubThe Queen's Club

The men's tournament at Eastbourne would remain unchanged.

LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd told The Guardian: "The reality of that location [Eastbourne] is commercially limited to some degree.

“It’s not about looking to concentrate our tournaments in London, so to speak.

"We still absolutely support our other venues throughout that calendar as the way we always have done, and indeed as you see us doing with Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup, whether it’s Glasgow, Manchester or Coventry.”

The Argus: Devonshire ParkDevonshire Park

The LTA's Chris Pollard added: "The LTA and the All England Club have been reviewing the entire grass court season with the intention of improving the experience for fans and players.

"We are fully committed to maintaining a combined men’s and women’s tour level event at Eastbourne in all scenarios. Whatever decision is made, the tournament will look and feel exactly the same as it does today.

"The same number of players, matches and all the amazing people behind the scenes working on the event, will all remain the same. 

"It will still retain the charm and unique setting that only Devonshire Park can provide. No final decisions have been made yet, and we continue to discuss the future calendar with the ATP and WTA.”