Injury, fatigue and understandable distrust of the English weather have left the field for the Britannic Asset Management tournament, which starts at Eastbourne today, looking thinner than the organisers had originally hoped.
Lindsay Davenport, last year's Wimbledon runner-up, makes her first appearance in almost three months, but the two other biggest names will be playing doubles: Martina Navratilova, now 44, who retired seven years ago, has teamed up with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario to add some much-needed star quality to the week following the withdrawal of Anna Kournikova.
Kournikova misses this event and Wimbledon with the foot injury that kept her out of the French Open, and Amelie Mauresmo has pulled out citing "exhaustion", the same word used to describe Jennifer Capriati's absence from the other WTA grass event, the Heineken Trophy in the Netherlands. Most leading ladies prefer to prepare for Wimbledon this week in their own time, rather than tie themselves into a tournament, and last year's finalists, Julie Halard-Decugis and Dominique van Roost, have both retired.
Davenport, who has again been troubled by injury this season, says that despite a knee ligament problem that has kept her out since March she is now "fine and ready to go". In her first match tomorrow she will meet either Anne-Gaelle Sidot of France or Daja Bedanova of the Czech Republic.
The second seed Nathalie Tauziat will not arrive until this evening, after playing in the final of the rain-haunted DFS Classic at Edgbaston. Amanda Coetzer and Magdalena Maleeva are seeded to reach the semi-final, though Conchita Martinez, the 1994 Wimbledon champion, who has been given a late entry as eighth seed, will be a threat.
Two Britons have been granted a wild card and two more play today in the final qualifying round, which will take place alongside first round matches. Louise Latimer, the British No 1, and Lucy Ahl go into the main draw, while the teenagers Elena Baltacha and Hannah Collin must win one more match to get there. Collin, the 1999 national champion, beat a top 100 player for the first time yesterday, in eliminating Slovenia's Tina Pisnik, and Baltacha saved a match-point before advancing to the final qualifying round.
The tournament director John Feaver, who insists, "there's still plenty of quality left in the field", is encouraged by forecasts of better weather than was had in the past week and in last year's tournament, which Halard-Decugis won in bitterly cold conditions.Reuse content