Tennis

Britains biggest womens-only tennis event Birmingham downgraded as Wimbledon buildup undergoes revamp

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Ash Barty was the Birmingham champion in 2019 (Picture: /Getty Images for LTA)

The grass-court season is set for a fresh look in 2020, with Britains biggest womens-only tennis event losing its status as a Premier tournament.

As part of a reshuffle of the WTA calendar, Premier status will now be handed to a new event in Berlin with Birminghams Nature Valley Classic downgraded to the International tier.

Prize money will be dramatically slashed from $1million to just $250,000 – which should help the event, that has operated at a severe loss, become more financially viable – while the ability to attract top-level stars will be severely tested.

World No. 1 Ash Barty was this years champion but she will be unlikely to defend her title as top-10 players will now be expected to head to Germany instead as part of the build-up to Wimbledon.

The offer of greater prize money and points is particularly tempting for a player as talented on the surface as Barty.

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Whether British No. 1 Johanna Konta chooses to stick with Birmingham is another intriguing question.

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Konta typically plays three events on home soil before heading to Wimbledon in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne and she may perhaps stick with the tried and tested grass courts of Birmingham.

British tennis chiefs are hopeful of still attracting a decent field in the countrys second city for this very reason.

Johanna Konta hits a shot at the US Open
Konta will have to make a decision on her schedule (Picture: Pacific Press/LightRocket)

Birmingham will still provide top-class grass courts that have proven to be an effective tool for players Wimbledon preparations.

Stars may prefer to stick with conditions they know – at least until theyve seen how conditions react in Berlin – in order to sharpen up ahead of the grass-court Grand Slam for fear of hurting their changes in SW19.

The All England Club will provide significant funding to the new Berlin event, with Wimbledon chiefs keen to support grass-court tennis – which is notoriously expensive to maintain.

How the grass-court season will look in 2020

Week 1: Nottingham (WTA International), SHertogenbosch (ATP 250/WTA International), Stuttgart (ATP 250)

Week 2: Berlin (WTA Premier), Birmingham (WTA International), Queens (ATP 500), Halle (ATP 500)

Week 3: Mallorca (ATP 250), Eastbourne (WTA Premier) – and possibly Bad Homburg (WTA International)

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