It takes a lot for the good tennis folk of Eastbourne to get annoyed, but there were a number of unhappy visitors to Devonshire Park yesterday.
While the organisers of the Britannic Asset Management International Championships were happy managing the assets earned from a record crowd of 6,479, a number of those were left for more than an hour without any matches to watch. Lunch on the lawn often with champagne may be part of the Eastbourne experience, but tennis is still usually the main attraction.
The problem came about partly after the withdrawal because of a shoulder injury of the Australian Alicia Molik, which left a gap in the schedule and gave Silvia Farina-Elia a walkover into today's quarter-finals. But since the decision was made six years ago to reduce the tournament from 48 players to 28 (a 32 draw with byes for the top four seeds), there is now a serious danger that when the weather is fair there are just not enough matches.
Some of those who bought ground passes for £6 and saw only Meghann Shaughnessy beat Evie Dominikovic and Elena Likhovtseva defeat Anne Kremer vented their anger to on-site officials, while others phoned newspapers.
Yet the priority given to centre court ticket holders continued as, Martina Navratilova's doubles went on court at 7.40pm on the main arena rather than on an outside court, and ultimately could not be finished.
In such a climate the tournament could least afford to lose its only major name in the bottom half of the draw, but Nathalie Tauziat bowed out in a two-hour 59-minute marathon to Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, in which she had four match points.
"The conditions were very difficult," the 33-year-old French former Wimbledon finalist said of the swirling wind. "It was taking a long time to serve."
Tauziat's defeat means Saturday's final will have at least one little-known player, and throws into sharper focus the withdrawal of big names such as Anna Kournikova and Amelie Mauresmo. Of the four players left in the lower half, only Shaughnessy is ranked in the top 20. She today plays Magui Serna, of Spain, with the winner facing Likhovtseva or Tanasugarn.
The more fashionable names are in the top half of the draw, where Davenport will play either Lisa Raymond or Chanda Rubin tomorrow if she beats Farina-Elia today. Rubin yesterday put out the out-of-form ex-Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez 6-7, 7-5, 6-0, whose game collapsed after she had led 4-2 in the second set.
Raymond came through a three-setter against the third seed, Amanda Coetzer, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. The diminutive South African served for the first set and looked good to win after taking four successive games to win the second, but her high ball toss proved a liability in the swirling wind, and she conceded the match on a double-fault.