Sponsors suffer day in the sun

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The Independent Online


reports from Eastbourne

Hidden behind a big blue awning, the big red telephone was looking decidedly sorry for itself. The organisers of the Eastbourne championships had hoped for someone to catch the eye at the start of a tournament bereft of its usual star names but this was ridiculous. As was the notion in a previously grey and miserable June: "Sun stops play".

While spectators arriving at Devonshire Park yesterday morning were entitled to believe that summertime tennis had finally arrived, those ordered to launch proceedings on Court 4 were less than pleased. The glare from the sponsor's distinctive advertising vehicle, placed directly in front of them, made it impossible to continue.

After a delay of more than an hour and with a considerable amount of blue baize and sticky tape applied to the offending display, play could recommence, Nicole Arendt of the United States finally edging out Kimberly Po 5-7, 7-5, 7-5.

It was an embarrassing start for Direct Line Insurance, new sponsors for the pre-Wimbledon event. The tournament itself was also feeling sore after Meredith McGrath decided yesterday morning that an Achilles complaint would prevent her defending her title, this after the No 1 seed, Jana Novotna, had withdrawn through illness.

Next year there will be no Jo Durie either. She has carried the banner for women's tennis in this country for so long but Wimbledon next week marks the end of her long and often bumpy road. Yesterday, for the second successive tournament, she bowed out in the first round following a tight three-set affair.

At 34, many aspects of Durie's game are giving up on her, though not the ability to fight her way out of tight corners. She saved five match points before succumbing to Patty Fendick 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

"I've just said to my coach that it's a good job I'm giving up because I can't take much more of this," she said. "It gets very wearing to come so close and not win."

There will be those quick to point out that it is an experience she should be used to by now, yet if the curtain falls it is right to think only positively about this stalwart of the British game. She took her leave of Eastbourne with sadness. Having competed here every year since she was 11 "I will miss this place for sure,'' she said.

Clare Wood, who has succeeded Durie as British No 1, also went out, but Karen Cross maintained a home presence in the singles draw with a 6-3, 7-6 victory over Kristine Radford, who is ranked 197 places higher. The 21-year-old from Devon next faces Zina Garrison Jackson, who won the DFS Classic at Edgbaston two days ago.