Ilkley content to offer themselves up as stepping stone for tennis hopefuls

IlkleyTennis Club's Charlie Maunder. Picture: Tony Johnson
IlkleyTennis Club's Charlie Maunder. Picture: Tony Johnson
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There is a ritual the organisers of the Ilkley Trophy conduct every year with departing champions.

“We’ll see you next year,” they chime as the winner slings his or her racket bag over their shoulder and tucks away their prize money.

It is a pleasantry often greeted by a grimace from the tennis professional.

“It takes a while to come to terms with the reaction, but we completely understand it now,” says tournament director Charlie Maunder.

“They’re not reacting to the experience they’ve had here at Ilkley, it’s more to do with them wanting this to be a stepping stone on the road to bigger things.

“Coming back here means they haven’t done that.”

Ilkley knows its place in the pecking order of tennis tournaments – on the men’s ATP Challenger Tour and the ITF’s Women’s Circuit, well below the main tours and grand slam circuits to which these players aspire.

But what tournament organisers pride themselves in is putting on a feast of tennis to the highest of their capabilities.

That they have been doing this every June for a number of years now was reflected in the Lawn Tennis Association’s decision last summer to award Ilkley a 10-year contract to stage the Fuzion Ilkley Trophy.

It is the longest-term commitment the club has received.

It’s great now to be locked into a 10-year contract. It gives us the freedom to put a plan in place

Charlie Maunder

“It’s great now to be locked into a 10-year contract. It gives us the freedom to put a plan in place,” adds Maunder, ahead of today’s opening qualifying rounds.

“There’s always an ambition to be as high as we can be, but primarily the focus is on being the best tournament in the north and cementing our status as a Challenger Tour event by exceeding in everything we do.”

Grants to the tune of £200,000 from the LTA have been invested in improvements to the grass courts and other club facilities.

This investment has brought an instant dividend; by last Wednesday, 10 days before the start of the qualifying rounds this weekend, Ilkley had already matched ticket sales for the whole of last year.

Interest in this year’s tournament has been boosted by Magdalena Rybarikova, who won last year’s Ilkley Trophy and then made it all the way to the semi-finals at Wimbledon where she lost to Garbine Muguruza.

She is not back – as they would expect – but last year’s US Open quarter-finalist Kaia Kanepi headlines the women’s event while American Donald Young is the most familiar face in the men’s draw.