Top-seed Agnieszka Radwanska dreaming of grass-court consistency
Radwanska has had her ups and downs on the lawns, losing on the South coast in the first round a year ago but going on to make a surprise appearance in her first major final facing Serena Williams in the title match at the All England club a little more than a fortnight later.
Last year's Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwarska is hoping to improve her grass-play consistency on what she calls her favourite surface as she starts her grand slam preparation as women's top seed at the ATP-WTA Eastbourne International.
The fourth-ranked Pole has had her ups and downs on the lawns, losing on the South coast in the first round a year ago but going on to make a surprise appearance in her first major final facing Serena Williams in the title match at the All England club a little more than a fortnight later.
"It's good to be back, even if last year was not so good for me here," said Radwanska, heading a field with nine grass-court title winners in the women's draw.
Radwanska cannot decipher why she loves grass so much, especially since she only steps onto it for the brief Wimbledon period. But the secret may lie in the fact that she and her sister Ursula train on synthetic grass during the winter off-season at home.
The right-hander from Krakow added: "We don't have any hard courts in my city, and certainly no real grass. In the winter, synthetic grass is all we have."
Radwanska will open play at windy Devonshire Park against the winner of the match between Briton Johanna Konta and Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.
Radwanska hopes to get enough polish on her grass game this week to make another big impression when Wimbledon begins next Monday.
"I hope I can make the final again and maybe go even further. Playing a grand slam final is so special, it feels like nothing else in the sport.
"I'm defending the final there so of course there is pressure. But I just try not to think of it and play my game."
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic, the number seven, became the first seed to fall as she lost to Russian Elena Vesnina 2-6. 6-4, 6-3.
The crowd-pleasing Serb saved two match points in the final game after falling behind 3-5 in the third set. But Vesnina won her first match here in her third appearance to reach the second round.
"On grass it's very hard to get rhythm, you don't get many long rallies and long points," said Ivanovic. "But overall I was pleased with my serving today, and in the first set I did quite a few good things.
"I want to build now and hopefully have another few good days of practise before Wimbledon."
Ivanovic had won both her previous meetings with the 36th-ranked Vesnina, who claimed her first WTA title in January in Hobart.
Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, the 2011 titleholder got off to a comfortable 6-3, 6-2 winning start over Italy's Flavia Pennetta.
Bartoli was playing for the first time since losing in the French Open third round and withdrawing from last week's Birmingham grass tournament due to an ankle problem.