"So another tennis week comes to town. The stars from the WTA and ATP tennis tours descend on Eastbourne for the currently titled Aegon International which has been a highlight of Eastbourne’s events calendar since 1975.
|Mike meeting with the Safety Officer|
The event grew from the demise of the old South of England Championships which staged its 82nd and final tournament in Devonshire Park the previous year. The Lawn Tennis Association and Eastbourne Borough Council decided to take the risk to stage the first WTA tour event in the week before Wimbledon. This was a bold and forward thinking decision as we now look back from the perspective of 40 years.
Many people have been involved over the years but Eastbourne’s Tourism Directors Peter Bedford, who took that decision along with elected members, and Ron Cussons who oversaw the growth of the event from 1986 and the construction of new stadia in 1995, were both major players.
|Mike overseas the daily safety briefing|
My first tournament was in 1980 which also saw George Hendon take over as Tournament Director a role he filled until 2000. In that first year Tracy Austin won the first of her two BMW Championships – Eastbourne titles and of course we saw Martina Navratilova claim 11 singles titles between 1978-1993.
Modern ticket sales are all online now but back in 1980 we sold paper tickets and filled in the allocated seat on a paper plan colouring blue for daily, green for weekly. The BBC commentator was Dan Maskell, the stands were wooden, the “West Open” seats were blue canvas director’s chairs from the seafront, the 1,300 seater East Terrace consisted of a very uncomfortable green iron chair and an event risk assessment was unheard of.
|Mike (pictured centre) and his team in 1990's|
After 40 years the grounds team under the guidance of Andy Bacon and Roy Charman still produce what are considered by many players to be the “best grass courts in the world” and as I near the end of my 35th tournament this week we have welcomed back to Eastbourne visitors, players, officials and many old friends for this year’s tournament .
On behalf of Eastbourne Borough Council and the town we say thank you to the Lawn Tennis Association and the players and all who have contributed over the last 40 years and we look forward to the future."