French number one Richard Gasquet is hoping he will be the main man to watch at the Aegon International.
The world number 13 is the highest ranked player in the men’s draw, and has shown he’s a force to be reckoned with on grass in the past.
He won back to back titles in Nottingham in 2005 and 2006, before reaching a career-high singles ranking of world number seven the year after, when he also got to the semi-finals of Wimbledon. More recently he had a successful 2012 Olympic Games at the All England Club.
Gasquet said, “I really enjoy playing the grass court season in the UK. I won my first ATP title on the grass in Nottingham in 2005 and defended it the year after.
“I also won an Olympic bronze medal in the London 2012 men’s doubles at Wimbledon, so I have some good memories.”
The last few years have seen a resurgence in Gasquet’s fortunes. In 2013 he finished in the world top ten for the second year in a row, and as the top Frenchman for the first time since 2007.
He won three titles for the first time since 2006, a personal-best 50 matches, and also reached his second career Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open.
However, 2014 hasn’t quite gone to plan. Gasquet was seeded ninth for the Australian Open in January but lost in the third round. Then, in April, he withdrew from ATP tournaments in Monte Carlo and Madrid, because of back problems.
But the French number one is determined to bounce back on the grass.
He said, “Last year was a really great year for me and I was hoping to build on that in 2014. I’ve had a few setbacks this year with injury but I’m very much looking forward to a summer of great tennis in the UK, starting at the Aegon International.”
The men’s competition has been a big hit since its introduction in 2009, but this year will be the last time the men play at Devonshire Park.
In 2015 the ATP tournament will move to Nottingham as part of plans to strengthen the grass court season between Roland Garros and The Championships, Wimbledon. Gasquet is determined to put on a show for his last Eastbourne performance and is prepared for some big battles.
He said, “The Aegon International is a tough tournament and there are usually some surprises. It’s a good test at the start of the grass court season and I’m looking forward to some competitive matches.”
One man who will be hoping he’s the one in the spotlight, for the second year running, is defending champion Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
The 31-year-old left hander held his nerve, in challenging weather conditions, to beat France’s Gilles Simon in last year’s final.
Lopez said, “Winning the Aegon international last year was fantastic for me. It was my first grass court title and the windy conditions made it really tough, so I was really proud to come out on top.
“I hope I can battle hard again this year and make it to another final.”
The world number 27 is one of many players who enjoy competing at the historic venue of Devonshire Park and he is looking forward to playing there for the last time in this special year.
Lopez said, “Devonshire Park is a beautiful venue and the crowd is very knowledgeable and supportive.
“I’m really pleased to be returning to Eastbourne as defending champion on the 40th anniversary of the tournament and I’m sure it will be a memorable event.”
The Spanish star lost to Andy Murray in the third round of the Australian Open in January, but has played in two ATP Tour doubles finals this year.
Lopez reached a career high of world number 15 in 2012 and though he has slipped out of the top 20, the three times Wimbledon quarter-finalist is always one to watch.
He said, “It’s really important to put together a good series of matches on grass going into Wimbledon, so you can get a good feel for the surface.
“Last year I managed to do this and that’s my plan again this time.”
Lopez and Gasquet will be joined by plenty of big hitters for their Eastbourne send-off this summer, including 2013 finalist, Simon of France and Ukrainian, Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells earlier this year.