Ilkley Lawn Tennis Club will welcome some of the world’s best players as it continues its emergence as one of Britain’s top tennis venues this week.
Prize money has doubled from last year as the Aegon Ilkley Trophy has become the richest second-tier event on tour.
The men’s Challenger Tour event has a £150,000 prize pool up for grabs with £100,000 on offer in the women’s ITF competition.
Charlie Maunder, tournament director and general manager at ILTSC said: “Everyone has said it is the highest prize money for this type of combined event in the world. Sometimes you think of it being words.
“But the focus and attention that has come from the governing bodies making sure we are crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s and having everything in place has just shown it is right up there on the list of priorities.”
Qualifying for the pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournament begins today before the first round of both the men’s and women’s events start for real on Monday.
We never expected to have a challenger event of this level. The club has always dreamed of it, so why not dream big.Charlie Maunder
More than 10,000 people are expected to visit Ilkley for the event and sell-out crowds are anticipated on centre court for the semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday June 24-25.
Former world No 8 Jurgen Melzer, a Wimbledon doubles champion, has been confirmed in the men’s draw while British No 8 Marcus Willis has been named as one of four wild cards.
Willis, a 26-year-old tennis coach, will be a star attraction after rising to fame at Wimbledon last year when he progressed through to the second round before losing against Roger Federer on Centre Court in straight sets.
The entrants also feature 2015 US Open boys champion Taylor Fritz, who stormed into the world’s top 50 in his first year on the tour last year, and Australian pair John Millman and James Duckworth.
Defending women’s champion Evgeniya Rodina will defend her title on the grass courts and will be joined in the draw by former French Open semi-finalist Andrea Petkovic and former world No 12 Yanina Wickmayer, of Belgium.
“The line-up of players for this year’s tournament is seriously impressive,” added Maunder.
The Challenger Tour is open for players over 50 in the world rankings, ruling out the likes of Yorkshire’s Kyle Edmund and world No 1 Andy Murray.
Edmund, from Beverley, and Murray will instead play at Queen’s Club as they attempt to build on their successful runs at the French Open.
As an ATP 500 event, Queen’s is the headline tournament of the Aegon Series but Ilkley has emerged as a front-runner of the chasing pack, including Eastbourne, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Surbiton.
The West Yorkshire club has a contract to host a Challenger Tour event until 2018, but talks have started to extend the deal up to 2021.
Maunder believes the tournament will continue to rise in stature over the next few years and has not ruled out the prospect of extending the centre court to hold up to 1,500 people.
He added: “A good three or four years of functioning at this level and prize money will see where we go. We can stretch how far we can take the flexibility of the tournament.
“From an aspiration of the club, we would like to go as far as we can. If that was to be a conversation in the future, from where we could go in 10 years time, that has to be an ambition.
“We never expected to have a challenger event of this level.
“The club has always dreamed of it, so why not dream big.
“Whether we can take it up to a £250,000 event, we will have to see in a few years.
“That may have to be on a single event.
“From a club point of view, having the combined events is perfect – it fits, and I think it will go from strength to strength.”