Here's an article about Virginia Wade from last year, sharing her fondest memories of sunny south England.
Eastbourne will always be special for Wade
From the archive, first published Thursday 9th Jun 2005.
Virginia Wade will celebrate the 30th anniversary of her Eastbourne triumph next week.
Wade overcame the legendary Billie-Jean King 7-5 4-6 6-4 in an epic 1975 final in blustery conditions at Devonshire Park. She has retained her connections with the ladies international event since then as a player, involved in competition and exhibitions, television commentator and sponsors' ambassador.
But the memory of her first taste of on-court success at Eastbourne, now called the Hastings Direct International Championships, still blows her away. The year before she had lost to Chris Evert in the final in the first year of the championship. Wade, the 1977 Wimbledon champion, said: "It would always be windy on finals day at Eastbourne.
"That's what it was like when I played Billie-Jean. It was a long difficult match and the ball was blown around.
"Billie-Jean was at the height of her powers, as was Chrissie when we played 12 months earlier. Billie-Jean was always tough on grass and the year I beat her she went on to win Wimbledon. The fact I beat her proved I was playing good tennis. It was the first year I felt I was ready to win Wimbledon. I went on to the quarter-finals at the All England Club in the following fortnight. I was stopped by Evonne Cawley in an amazing match. Both of us played well and I lost 8-6 in the third set. She got the decisive break with an amazing passing shot. I remember coming off court thinking it just wasn't my day and that I couldn't have done any more."
Wade recalls how her Eastbourne epics set the tone for drawn out finals.
She said: "There were so many other long finals. Everybody was getting ready for Wimbledon and didn't want to leave everything on court but those finals were so intense. I remember thinking about whether I should be playing these sort of matches just before Wimbledon. But it has always been such a great tournament. I took it for granted I would get close to the final so I ploughed through the week winning and having fun.
"It was also fun off court. Eastbourne was a relaxing town. It had lots of good restaurants and plenty of lovely walks along the prom. I mainly stayed in a hotel close to the venue but rented a flat once or twice. I didn't hang out with the likes of Billie-Jean. We all had our own friends but we seemed to get on okay. The fans were great. Many used to book their holidays so they could spend a few days at the tournament.
They could get really close to the players. Now they have improved the facilities it is even better for the crowd."
Wade would recommend the tournament to today's stars.
She said: "Some players choose to practice at Wimbledon instead of playing Eastbourne but they run the risk of peaking too early.
"But at Eastbourne there is less chance of that happening because it is away from Wimbledon, has a relaxed atmosphere and you build up by playing matches."
This year's entries include Kim Clijsters, Amelie Mauresmo, Daniela Hantuchova, Alicia Molik, Elena Likhovtseva, the French Open semi-finalist, and defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Wade said: "Kim has made a phenomenal return with her back-to-back wins at Indian Wells and Miami. She's tough, a terrific player and a very nice person.
"I like Svetlana too. You get some players who get involved in extra-curricular activities. But Svetlana is one who concentrates purely on her tennis. She is such a down-to-earth girl."
Wade hopes the big names don't pull out, as they have done in the past.
Jusine Henin-Hardenne was originally entered next week but withdrew after winning the French Open on Saturday.
Wade said: "Eastbourne has suffered a lot. Some players let the side down. They say they are going to play and the tournament promotes that. So when they pull out late it is so much more damaging to the event than had they not entered in the first place."
Wade will return to Eastbourne next week to commentate for BBC TV and act as a Hastings Direct ambassador.
She is best known, of course, for flying the Union Jack across the tennis courts of the world as a player. She won the US and Australian Opens, in 1968 and 1972 respectively, but her greatest triumph was winning the Wimbledon crown in the Queen's Jubilee year at the 17th attempt.
She said: "I was on my own as far as British players were concerned until Sue Barker came along and she took the pressure off me from 1976 onwards. Sue coming on the scene was a big help."
But Wade cherishes her Eastbourne memories too. She loves the place.
It was an affair which began in the late Sixties when she played for Kent at Devonshire Park in division one of County Week.
She said: "My county always finished mid-table and I enjoyed it. I have had a long association with Eastbourne."
Wade will be 60 on July 10.
She smiled: "How do you like that! There's not a lot I can do about it. I try to stay in great shape. I still play tennis and remain pretty active. I don't think I've changed much in what I do and how I look."