ATP Challenger Tour Turns Attention To Grass Swing
The smell of freshly trimmed grass is in the air on the ATP Challenger Tour, with three weeks of high-octane, fast-paced tennis set to commence. The grass-court season on the ATP World Tour is still one week away, but the lawns are cut and ready for action at the Aegon Manchester Trophy, which will get underway Tuesday at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club in Manchester, England.
The three-week swing, which also includes €42,500 events in the London suburb of Surbiton and the town of Ilkley, located in northern England, is on the schedule for a second straight year. In 2015, Sam Groth took the title in Manchester, with fellow Aussie Matthew Ebden prevailing in Surbiton after saving two match points against Denis Kudla in the final. Kudla would return the favour a week later, defeating Ebden for the Ilkley crown. With Wimbledon main draw wild cards typically awarded to the tournament winners and critical Emirates ATP Rankings points at stake, it is an intriguing stretch on the ATP Challenger Tour schedule.
This week, Kudla is the top seed in Manchester, with reigning champ Groth seeded seventh and home favourite Daniel Evans looking to add a third ATP Challenger Tour title in 2016. Local hope Liam Broady received a main draw wild card. The tournament was held from 1995-2009, before taking a five-year hiatus. It has since returned to the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, affectionately known as the 'Wimbledon of the North'. Founded in 1880, the venue boasts 19 tennis courts, including seven on grass, and has welcomed former World No. 1s Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg over the years.
"Last year was my first year playing a pro tournament at The Northern," said Broady. "It was a special experience for me because as a boy I can remember going to watch the Challenger and being amazed at the standard. It puts a nice perspective on how far I have come since then.
"It's also great to be able to have my close friends and family come and watch. The grass courts are as good as you will find anywhere. It's a pleasure to play on the courts here and every player in the tournament agrees."
Following Manchester, the grass-court swing weaves its way to the southwest London suburb of Surbiton, a town with quite the impressive tennis footprint. Founded in 1881, the Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club has a rich history, having hosted the prestigious Surrey Grass Court Championships from 1904-1980. The tournament would return in 1998 as the Aegon Surbiton Trophy, and has featured Roger Federer, a semi-finalist in 1999, as well as 2006 champion Mardy Fish and 2007 winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
"You get the feeling that this time of year everyone loves tennis," said Ryan Harrison, a quarter-finalist in Surbiton last year. "You can tell that people enjoy being out here and enjoy watching tennis at any level, even if it's not Roger Federer on the court. I feel like this tournament is the epitome of an event that has great people around it."
"It's a great training ground for young players," said Judy Murray, mother of World No. 2 Andy Murray. "I remember Andy playing here one year as a teenager, in the run-up to Wimbledon. I think you'll find a lot of the stars of the future to look out for."
The ATP Challenger Tour grass season concludes with the Aegon Ilkley Trophy at the 136-year-old Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club. Arguably one of the most picturesque venues on the Challenger circuit, the tournament is nestled adjacent to the idyllic Ilkley Moor, Cow & Calf rocks and River Wharfe.
"It's pretty amazing in Ilkley," said reigning champion Kudla. "There are lots of fans here supporting the tournament and the players. It has the environment that players love."