Ann Jones Centre Court
Edgbaston Priory Club
When the football season comes to a close, June always provides me with enough alternative action to bridge the gap. Tennis is my second favourite sport after football and I’ve been taking in a familiar stadium of sorts in Birmingham this week at the Aegon Classic.
Looking back through this year’s official programme and seeing the 1998 tournament was cancelled due to rain, it tells you how much good weather is heavily relied on in tennis. With three of the four Grand Slam tournaments already having rooves over their centre courts – and with the French Open to follow soon – the smaller events are very dependant on a good forecast. I can recall being at Aegon Classics in the past that have experienced several rain delays. But luckily, this year, there’s been a record-breaking heatwave in the United Kingdom. It made a nice change to wear shorts.
One of the best aspects to the Aegon Classic is how much interaction can be had between oneself and the world’s best tennis players. Practice sessions are held throughout the day by the entrance to the grounds and very often players are drifting through. It’s become a bit of a tradition to get a photo with one of my favourite players each year and thanks to the Aegon Classic, I’ve had a snap with stars such as Genie Bouchard, Laura Robson, Ana Ivanovic and Andrea Petkovic. This year I managed to get a selfie with 2016 French Open winner Garbine Muguruza after her 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Elizaveta Kulichkova. I don’t take selfies often so it’s not that great of a photo but it’s kept a fun tradition going until 2018.
Value for money
I arrived at Edgbaston Priory Club just after 4pm in order to buy a Twilight Ticket. This would give me access to all of the courts still featuring matches for £10. As it turned out, there was still plenty of action left in the day. The third match on Centre between Dominika Cibulkova and Lucie Safarova was just entering the end of the second set. Safarova managed to take the set into a tiebreak and saved two match points as she forced a decider. My friend (who was covering the tournament as part of the press) and I, used the break to fill our water bottles at the free taps outside Centre. We watched Safarova eventually beat Cibulkova 5-7, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5 in an entertaining encounter before taking in Muguruza against Kulichkova. More matches were taking place on outside courts including recent Nottingham Open winner Donna Vekic versus Alison Riske. Meanwhile, the opportunity to meet Kristina Mladenovic was announced over the PA. There really was plenty still on offer for £10 a ticket. However…
…the main reason I didn’t go for the whole day was because of the steep full ticket prices. Considering the matches were all first round encounters, the £32-37 fee felt very extortionate. Especially with the previous day being £17-22. I realise that the Aegon Classic has increased in stature over time, going up in ranking points and prize money from a WTA International to a WTA Premier event. But with final tickets just £15 more expensive, and ground passes at Wimbledon £25 for first round matches, there seems a big disparity in the way prices are calculated for the week. Had the previous day’s prices been in operation, I’d have gladly paid that to see Petra Kvitova and Johanna Konta play before the Safarova and Muguruza matches.
Big name withdrawals
The field of players this year boasted singles major winners Muguruza and Kvitova. However, the original line-up contained even more prowess with Maria Sharapova, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko having eight Grand Slams between them. For various schedule and injury reasons, these players, along with other big-hitters like Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska, withdrew before the tournament started. Their profiles are even still featured in the programme. A lot of these names have played in Birmingham before though, so there’s always a chance they’ll return in 2018.
The Aegon Classic will always be on my list of events to look out for every year. Having the chance to see international calibre players in my area is something I feel very fortunate to experience. Of course, sometimes the weather can be a pain so it’s always worth checking ahead on the day. But for a unique experience of quality tennis close-up, given you can afford it or be savvy with your ticket purchase, it can’t be beaten.