Women’s tennis returns to Queen’s despite concerns it would ruin the grass

Tennis at Queen's
Queen's is one of the few LTA events that makes money - AFP/ADRIAN DENNIS

The world’s leading female players are to return to Queen’s Club next summer for the first time in more than 50 years after a rejig of the English grass-court season.

The Lawn Tennis Association believe that the new itinerary, which extends professional tennis at Queen’s to a fortnight, will create a stronger and more prestigious sequence of events, even though it means a downgrade for the popular tournament at Eastbourne.

The LTA also told reporters on Thursday that they were confident in the ability of Queen’s to handle back-to-back events – a WTA 500 in the second week of June, followed by an ATP 500 in the third – without a significant deterioration in the quality of its grass courts.

The ATP board had previously expressed concern about male players turning up on worn courts with bare patches at the start of the Cinch Championships, which are the latest incarnation of an event that was originally contested in 1885 under the title of “Championship of London”.

Yet the ATP have allowed the change, perhaps conscious of the PR downside of appearing to cold-shoulder their sisters at the WTA. In a recent discussion of this issue, BBC Woman’s Hour interviewed tennis broadcaster Catherine Whitaker, who suggested that a blocking manoeuvre from the ATP would represent “the perfect metaphor for the patriarchy”.

There is a possibility, however, that serious problems with the court surface could yet derail this initiative. LTA events director Chris Pollard said on Thursday that the agreement with the ATP has only been confirmed for the 2025 season.

Queen’s has long been the shining jewel in the LTA’s grass-court season. (They play no part in running Wimbledon, which is the preserve of the All England Club.) It is the one event that is genuinely profitable, thus subsidising other events such as Birmingham and Nottingham.

Queries will inevitably be raised from other parts of England over the centralisation of all the best tennis in London. Birmingham is another loser, with its 250-point WTA event now being downgraded to a second-tier combined tournament that coincides with the second week of the French Open.

It should be said, however, that attendances at Birmingham’s Priory Club have often been poor, despite the regular presence of WTA heavy-hitters such as Naomi Osaka and Venus Williams. Queen’s always sells out, attracting an audience that former LTA chief executive Roger Draper once infamously described as “city boys and their posh totty”.