The Aegon Ilkley Trophy begins today with Yorkshire tennis fans ready for their chance to watch some of the world’s top players.
Qualifying matches played on Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club’s grass courts are free to watch this weekend before play starts in the main men’s and women’s draws on Monday.
With several up-and-coming British players awarded wild cards, the GB Pro-Series event offers supporters plenty of homegrown talent to back as members of the top 200 gather in the Dales.
Ilkley’s outstanding facilities and the LTA’s desire to spread tennis across the country in the build-up to Wimbledon has seen the club awarded their showpiece professional tournament until 2018, with an option to renew beyond 2020.
Prize money will also increase hugely as the grass circuit undergoes a shake-up next season.
“Last year, the highlight for me was the men’s final, when the Wimbledon referee, Andrew Jarrett, was watching the presentation. He managed to get the ATP director on the phone and he asked the winner, Denis Kudla, there and then if he would accept a wild card into the Wimbledon draw. Nobody had ever witnessed that before,” said tournament director Charlie Maunder.
The club already leads the way for player-spectator interaction, with a quiz night and barbecue evening planned to allow everyone to mix, while many of the Dales town’s homes will be filled with competitors from all over the world hosted by local families.
“It’s nice for them to be part of the family. Last year when Belarusian player Polina Pekhava stayed with us, we had a hit on the indoor court. I was done in! But it was a chance for an amateur to play someone of her quality and I’ll never forget that,” added chairman Stephen Hebblewhite.
This year, spectator capacity has increased from 600 to 1,000 and several theme days have been organised to appeal to a broad cross-section of tennis lovers.
“This year we’ve got a Ladies’ Day, where the Pimm’s will be flowing, afternoon tea will be served and a band are playing in the evening, and Yorkshire Day where we invite the chairs of other clubs and their guests. On Family Sunday we have inflatables, face painting - it’s a chance to thank our members,” said Charlie.
An outreach programme has 2,000 Yorkshire schoolchildren booked in for coaching sessions alongside the professional event, and 300 ball crew applicants have been whittled down to 120, most of them junior members or Ilkley Grammar School pupils. Last year, over half of ball boys and girls went on to join the club.
The Davis Cup won by Great Britain last year will also be on display at the Lido Community Centre on the Thursday and Friday as part of its national tour.
“We are hoping people will get inspired to pick up a racket for the first time. Last year it was a real buzzing hive,” added Charlie.
The Aegon Ilkley Trophy runs from June 11-19. For tickets and pricing visit www.theticketfactory.com/ltaci/online.