The Ilkley Trophy has celebrated this year the fifth edition of the Challenger Tournament combined with a women’s ITF World Tour 1000 event with another successful event that has brought to Yorkshire a number of world-class tennis players looking to conquer the winner’s prize that comprises a highly coveted main draw wild card for the Wimbledon Championships. This year’s winners, Dominik Koepfer and Monica Niculescu, secured the ultimate award at the end of two entertaining three-set finals played in front of a sold-out crowd that has taken advantage of a very fortunate week of weather to enjoy some fine tennis.
Created in 2014 contextually to the extension of the grass court “season” from two weeks to three weeks, the Ilkley Trophy has gone from strength to strength, steadily growing year after year to establish itself not only as the most important grass court tournament in the Challenger circuit, but also as a marquee event in Yorkshire’s summer calendar. The organizing committee, led by the Manager of the Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, Charlie Maunder, who also doubles up as Tournament Director, has managed to create a really unique atmosphere that everyone seems to enjoy.
Before the final day of the tournament, we have managed to spend a few minutes with Charlie (everyone calls him this way), who we have been told is not too comfortable with media, preferring to let his work speak for himself, but in this case he was kind enough to talk to us. Or he was just cornered by his fellow team members and given no choice… we will never know.
How do you think this edition went?
This is the best year we have had. And so far, we have been able to say it every year, each year we have jumped up a couple of steps. This year has been a lot smoother, with a lot less stress. All the organization, all the contingencies, everything worked well, the team has done it before, we have a lot of familiar faces. The courts held up really well, where we are sitting now [just behind Centre Court] just 12 weeks ago was under water because of a flood, so it has been a tough preparation that required us to remain focused all the way through. The feedback I have received is very positive: players, officers, spectators, everyone seems to have had a great time, we have created a real atmosphere around the event.
What kind of resources is the club dedicating to the organization of this event?
There is a small team of club employees, two-three of us, who work at setting up the tournaments, with the cooperation of the volunteers who make up most of the operations team. We meet once a month throughout the year to coordinate our efforts, but most of all we have managed to put together a really great team of volunteers that come back year after year, 150 to 200 volunteers between club members, students coming back from university, the all swarm us every year to meet the demands of organizing this event. Without volunteers it would be impossible for us to deliver what we deliver, so credit to these people.
How many spectators will you have this week?
We will have something between 13,000 to 15,000 spectators. We have been sold out Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday was also a big day, after a wet Monday, Paul Jubb helped us draw a big crowd on Centre Court on a weekday, so numbers are fantastic.
Do you benchmark yourselves against other tournaments, either Challengers or higher-level events, both in the UK or overseas?
No, not really. We looked around to learn a few things, but we just try to be Ilkley as best as we can be. We put on a festival for the members, we try our best to give the players the best experience we can offer. When you try to be someone else, I believe you set yourself up for failure, we just want to be quite unique, and I think we have achieved that: the buzz and the atmosphere around here is quite different.
This event is at the highest possible level in the ATP Challenger Tour and at the highest possible level in the Women’s ITF World Tour: is there any appetite to go further?
We are the new kid on the block, we are here, we are delivering and we want to push ourselves to go wherever this might take us. It’s a fine balance because we are at a level that the members of our club really enjoy: I am both the Tournament Director and the Club Manager and at the moment I have a very good control of the event, and we like that. We are open to challenge ourselves and try something bigger, we like the combined event, and we wouldn’t say no should the opportunity present itself.
There is a week “for sale” on the ATP Tour at the moment: it would be the week after your current slot. Are you aware of it?
Yes, I am.
Have you thought about applying?
The next week is a tough week because it’s the week immediately before Wimbledon and it is at the same time as the Wimbledon ‘qualies’. We need to be aware of the amount of tennis that we would have with that new date compared to what we have now: the two ‘Challengers’ we are hosting now showcase great tennis players, there is the romance of a potential wild card for Wimbledon. You have to be sure what you give up, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but we could do that as well: I am not afraid to do a back to back!
Have you thought of organizing other events throughout the year?
We have looked at different things, but the nature of the club is a members’ club, it’s key that we don’t take too much time away from the members and their ability to play on their courts. We have to be careful not to turn this facility into just a tournament venue, because our members and their families need to come first.
But the two things should not necessarily be mutually exclusive. Everybody in the world of tennis knows that Alexander Zverev loves Yorkshire and Yorkshire’s accent: the videos of him interacting with Johanthan Pinfield at Roland Garros have become viral. Have you thought of organizing and event to get him up here, or any other player for that matter?
We do need to look at how we attract the bigger names, it’s something we are missing out a little bit. Of course, we get wild card request, normally they go to the Brits [through the LTA]: potentially it would be nice to have a ‘club wild card’, an invite we can dispose of at our leisure so that we can attract a player that maybe hasn’t gotten in at Queen’s or wants to play a bit more on grass.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced this year?
Nothing major, nothing detrimental. I believe the big improvement we need to look into is how we would handle the eventuality of playing the final rounds indoor, should the weather not cooperate. At the moment we have no facilities to host spectators in our indoor courts, and we don’t really have a way to easily accommodate 800-900 people, so this is one aspect that we will need to improve for the next editions.
Dominic Thiem To Return At Marbella Challenger, Joins Wawrinka In Stacked Field
Dominic Thiem will be joining Stan Wawrinka in making his return to action at the Marbella challenger next week.
Dominic Thiem will finally make his return to the ATP tour at the Marbella challenger next week.
The Austrian hasn’t played a tennis match since retiring at the grass court event in Mallorca last June due to a wrist injury.
Despite being scheduled to play at the Australian Open and at the Indian Wells-Miami swing, Thiem had to postpone his return as he wasn’t quite ready to compete in matches.
However now Thiem has decided to return as he will begin his clay court swing next week at the Marbella Challenger.
The former Roland Garros finalist took to Instagram to announce the news as he looks to climb back up the rankings.
The world number 50 will face tough competition with former Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka also making his comeback at the event in Spain next week.
At the blockbuster event there will also be the likes of Holger Rune, Pablo Cuevas, Jaume Munar and Lucas Pouille competing.
The winner of the event will receive 125 ranking points but much more importantly for Thiem and Wawrinka much needed match practice ahead of a busy European clay-court swing.
Thiem will be the top seed while Wawrinka will be unseeded with their being a possibility of the two heavyweights meeting in the opening round.
Play will start on Monday with Jaume Munar being the defending champion.
Roberto Bautista Agut reaches his second career final in Doha
Roberto Bautista Agut reached the second final of his career at the Qatar Exxon Mobil with a 6-3 6-3 win over defending champion Andrey Rublev.
Bautista Agut broke serve in the fourth game with a forehand winner to open up a 3-1 lead and held on his next service games to close out the first set 6-3 after 29 minutes.
The Spaniard started the second set with an early break. Rublev broke straight back in the second game and won his next two service games to take a 3-2 lead. Bautista Agut saved two break points to hold serve before getting two consecutive breaks to claim the second set 6-3.
Rublev was playing his first match this week after two walkovers. The Russian player claimed the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam last week.
“It was very difficult to play tennis today, with the windy conditions, but I put a lot of pressure on his second serve and played really good tennis. I played a long match yesterday against Dominic Thiem, but I felt fresh and I had a lot of power on the court. This is one of my favourite tournaments. I played one of my best matches here in Qatar two years ago, and I hope I can win one more match tomorrow”, said Bautista Agut.
Bautista Agut set up a final against Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat Taylor Fritz 7-6 (7-3) 6-1.
Basilashvili, who beat Roger Federer in the quarter final, rallied from one break down to win the tie-break of the first set 7-3. The Georgian player broke twice in the second and sixth games to close out the second set 6-1. “To reach the final means a lot. I am playing well and I am relaxed. It’s great to play in front of a crowd and a nice atmosphere”, said Basilshvili.
Andy Murray defeated in the final of the Biella Challenger
The former world number was runner-up to the Ukrainian Ilya Marchenko. Both will feature in next week’s event in the same location
Andy Murray suffered a surprising defeat in the final of this week’s tournament in Biella. Playing his second Challenger event in 16 years (the other one occurred in Mallorca in 2019 when, limping on a battered hip, he lost against Matteo Viola in the eighth of finals). Before today’s runner-up finish, he had played twice against his opponent, Illya Marchenko from Ukraine (N.212 in the ATP Rankings), both times at the Australian Open, in 2011 and 2017 respectively, winning both times.
But it was the Ukrainian who got off to a flying start, while the Scotsman looked a bit cumbersome and immediately lost his serve, giving a nice boost of confidence to his opponent, who broke his serve once more in the fifth game, taking a 4-1 lead. Murray couldn’t control his changes of pace, while Marchenko was pretty much spotless. The 6-2 score in his favour was the logical consequence, as confirmed by the numbers, which saw him win 83% of points on his first serve (against a meagre 53% for Murray), with no break points allowed.
In the first game of the second set, Marchenko immediately leapt ahead, breaking the Brit’s serve and even earning a chance for a 3-0 lead. Murray managed to stay close and started to play in a more conservative way, with great humility, in an attempt to reduce the number of unforced errors. Murray saved a match point at 3-5 with his second serve, exploiting Marchenko’s clumsiness with the backhand, but couldn’t do the same on the return, conceding defeat at the third match point. must defend with the second. Luckily for him, Marchenko is a bit clumsy in his preparation steps and puts up a not particularly difficult backhand. The former world number one will try to exact revenge in the same location starting tomorrow, as a Challenger 125 will take place once more in Biella, with players like Lorenzo Musetti (the seventh seed), Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ATP N.54) and Sebastian Korda (N.88).
Report by Massimo Gaiba; edited by Tommaso Villa
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