With Wimbledon on the horizon, the focus lands on the pre-grand slam grass court tournaments. The tournament local to me is one that I visited nearly 20 years ago, The Nature Valley Nottingham Open.
While many fans head to Eastbourne or Queens Club, tournaments like this often get overlooked. Many big stars have featured at this event down the years. On my last visit, world number one Lleyton Hewitt squared off on centre court against Xavier Malisse. Greg Rusedski kindly stopped for an autograph and I ended up falling in love with tennis.
But, first things first, how do you get to The Nottingham Open? Sure you could park your car for £5, or even £20 for the week. The convenient option for most, is to take the tram. I headed to Toton Lane just off the A52, the end of line park and ride.
Here, an event ticket costs just £2 for the entire day. Or if you fancy the whole week, £16. A small saving but an easy one, given that the University of Nottingham stop is right outside the tennis centre.
I am covering this event as a journalist, with official media accreditation, a huge step forward for artisantraveller.com. Walking into the media suite is a weird but satisfying feeling. With my pass proudly around my neck, it was a nice introduction to the world of professional journalism.
The venue itself is like a mini-Wimbledon with one large centre court and outside grounds featuring multiple matches taking place. Entry will set you back from around £5 for the early stages such as qualifying steadily rising up to £29 for the finals. Very good value for a local event featuring a handful of the world’s top players.
World number 21 Naomi Osaka is a big draw in the ladies while British duo Cameron Norrie and Liam Broady headline the mens. Johanna Konta and Heather Watson also fly the flag for Great Britain in the ladies singles. Former world number one Sam Stosur is also a late entry.
The day began with the centre course out of use. The grounds however were in full capacity with a stacked card of matches to begin the qualifying stage of the tournament. Mens singles on Court Two took my focus as Dominic West faced off against Jonathan Binding
I joined midway through the second set as Binding had got off to the perfect start. West came back in the second to take it 7-6 before a topsy-turvy third set went to Binding by way of 7-5. It felt great to be watching the first grass court action of the summer with a front row view.
Seating was at a premium in the smaller courts but Court One has a raised seating area and, on the day, hosted the ladies singles. Katie Swan faced off against Abigail Tere-Apisah with a growing crowd looking on. Tere-Apisah took the first set 6-4 with Swan slowly gaining in momentum towards the end.
Set two went the way of Swan, wielding a deadly forehand. 6-3 and looking stronger going into the final set, Swan closed the show with a strong service game to wrap up the final set 6-4. A great game which went down very well with the supporters.
I managed to get an elevated vantage point in the stand which overlooked the opposing showcourt featuring Danielle Lao and Arina Rodionova, at times it was tough to concentrate on Swan vs Ter-Apisah as Rodionova loudly challenged a long call, the umpire got the full brunt of the resulting protests.
It didn’t end there, Rodionova continued to berate both the umpire, line judge and even ball boy. Lao continued unaffected and ended up smashing her opponent 6-3,6-2. Rodionova’s Mcenroe-esque protests continued shortly after the handshake resulting in a quick departure from the court.
All in all an immensely enjoyable first day at The Nature Valley Nottingham Open, £5 is an absolute bargain to see some quality grass court tennis. I’m already looking forward to day two which brings further qualifying action.
Another seamless ride down on the tram from Toton Lane got me to a rather overcast Nottingham Tennis Centre for the second installment of qualifying action. Eye catching draws featured Katie Swan up against Paula Badosa Gibert of Spain and Danielle Lao taking on Jaimee Fourlais – Lao hoping for a slightly quieter game than the last contest against the angry Arina Rodionova.
Fan’s of boxing will also have a keen eye on Christopher Eubanks of the USA up against Jonathan Binding who took three sets yesterday to get past Dominic West. A few specks of rain on the walk up to the venue gave me the jitters, many fans were also still to arrive, fingers were firmly being crossed for a dry day ahead.
Taking my seat on court number one, familiar territory now for Katie Swan. Predictably again, Swan conceded the first set 6-2 with the Spaniard Badosa Gibert in full control. Things then took a turn for Swan as a medical break was called and a bandage to the thigh administered.
Warming up, along with the weather, Katie began to fire off some trademark forehands from the baseline. Aside from play at the net being a slight hindrance, Swan took the second set comfortably 6-2. Badosa Gibert offered a fight in the third with some neat groundstrokes but Swan held on to emphatically take it 6-1.
Katie’s fan base seems to be growing by the day, a near full capacity in the tiered seating watched the Bristol-based player advance to the next stage of the tournament. I would count myself amongst those fans, Swan is an exciting player with a good range of shots for such a young prospect.
Elsewhere on Court Four, the giant figure of Christopher Eubanks began firing tennis balls in the direction of Jonathan Binding of Great Britain. A painful first set for Binding resulted in a 6-2 deficit. The towering Eubanks continued to pepper Binding with his powerful serve long into the second securing the win 6-2, 6-2.
The sun by now was blazing hot as I took up a seat near the coach for SaiSai Zheng of China facing off against Ella Taylor of Great Britain. Zheng took the first set 6-3 showing a neat backhand slice. Taylor began the second set in great form going 3-0 up before Zheng called the trainer on.
Whatever the coach had to say, it worked like a charm. Zheng began to find winners left, right and centre as Taylor’s lead evaporated. Frustration for Ella was evident as she launched a ball into the net in anger. Zheng closed the show to complete a remarkable comeback 6-4 and advance to the next stage of the tournament.
The arrival of the sunshine brought many fans down to the Nottingham Open to enjoy a cracking second day of action. I was really beginning to get into the tournament and start to see potential stars emerging. Katie Swan remains, in my opinion, the one to watch going into Mondays action where Centre Court will be in use, exciting times for the future of British tennis.
Tournament dates: 9-17 June