LTA believes grass greener down south

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The Independent Online

Scotland may be producing the best players in Britain but the focus of British tennis is shifting further south. From next year the pre-Wimbledon men's tournament in Nottingham will be played at Eastbourne, while Edgbaston must fight off challenges from other venues to keep its women's event. Roger Draper, the Lawn Tennis Association's chief executive, said yesterday that pressure from players, who want to base themselves in and around London during the grass-court season, was a major reason for the change.

Except for Richard Gasquet and occasional appearances by leading Britons, Nottingham has struggled to attract top fields in recent years. The LTA believes more leading men will play in a combined event at Eastbourne, which already draws many of the top women. As consolation Nottingham has been invited to stage, from next year, a combined men's Challenger tournament and women's event in the second week of the French Open, a slot currently filled by Surbiton.

Eastbourne will be the seventh world event to bring men and women together and the first in Britain at this level. There has already been substantial investment in Devonshire Park and more will follow, with the second court expanded from 800 seats to 1,500 and additional seating installed at a third.

While Maria Sharapova has played at Edgbaston for the last four years, the Priory Club's hold on its event has been looking vulnerable because of limited facilities. Birmingham will no doubt be keen to keep its place in the calendar, but the LTA is inviting bids from other venues to stage the tournament from 2010. A bidding process will also be used in deciding venues for future Davis Cup ties.

The LTA is in talks with a number of sponsors with a view to finding a single backer for the whole of British tennis, which it is hoped will help make the pre-Wimbledon tournaments more viable. The men's event at Queen's is profitable, but the tournaments at Eastbourne, Nottingham, Edgbaston and Surbiton lose £1.5m a year.

Wimbledon will be hoping to welcome back its defending women's champion in June, but Venus Williams cast doubt over her future yesterday when she withdrew indefinitely from tennis because of "some issues that I need to resolve". Williams, who had cited medical reasons for pulling out of this week's tournament at Amelia Island, said she hoped to be back in time for the French Open. She suffered from anaemia last year, complaining of dizziness on court, while there has also been recent speculation that she was getting engaged to the American golfer, Hank Kuehne.

Men competing in the Davis Cup World Group will receive ranking points from next year. It is hoped this will encourage more top players to commit to the competition.