Ilkley gets set to offer stage to future stars

Wimbledon may be in full swing but in a small corner of Yorkshire, one tennis club is enjoying the calm before the storm.

Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club may not have to stare into the eye of the Wimbledon storm, but during the showpiece men’s final on the All England Club’s Centre Court next Sunday, a third tier tournament will begin on the pristine grass surfaces of the North Yorkshire town.

The JM Glendinning Group Ilkley International Tournament, part of the AEGON Pro Series, is a seven-day event for 64 male players on the international futures tour.

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It does not have the headline acts of the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic, but for sports fans who want their tennis fix to extend beyond the regulation two weeks a year, then a trip to Ilkley should satisfy.

Future British stars will be on show, as well as players from across the globe who will descend on the pictueresque spa town in pursuit of the top prize from a pot of $10,000.

For tournament organiser Caroline Buncall, the next few days will be spent finalising preparations, be that overseeing the mowing of the 14 grass courts that will host the action to ensuring enough refreshments are ordered for the various social functions that support the event.

“It’s a busy week because our doors are still open to the members, but it’s an important week for us,” says Buncall, who has the failsafe option of five indoor courts to move the tournament to should the British summer take a turn for the worse.

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“It’s a tournament that often attracts the stars of the future. In 1994 when we also had the women’s event we had Amelie Mauresmo playing here, who of course went on to win Wimbledon.

Jamie Murray played in 2005; he’s won mixed doubles at Wimbledon.

“In terms of players right now there’s Oliver Golding, who’s ranked No 5 in the world at juniors, a semi-finalist at junior Wimbledon last year, and Liam Brody is No 15 at juniors and won the junior doubles last year at Wimbledon.

“Josh Goodall is also a very good doubles player and will be competing.

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“Hopefully people will be watching these players doing well in the junior events this week and then they can come and see them here live in the flesh at Ilkley.

“So there are definitely Brits that people will be familiar with plus players visiting us from over 30 countries.

“It’s a big draw at this level and players will be fighting hard for ranking points to move them onto the next level.”

The Ilkley Open begins with the qualifier on Sunday followed by the first round on Monday, and continues through to the final on Saturday, July 9.

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Entry is made free to all spectators by a club that works hard to detach itself from the elitist stigma that often clings to tennis.

Certainly the numbers measured against the paucity of Britons in the second week of Wimbledon suggest the club is being successful at achieving that goal; with 1,900 members from the local area, 500 of those juniors, and annual racquet membership starting at below £300.

“People are always welcome,” adds Buncall. “They don’t have to be members, they can just sign up to a coaching programme.”