Ilkley Tennis Club returns to the big game after taking the Covid-enforced backseat

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At the time, Medvedev was ranked outside the world’s top 100, desperately trying to find the form to compete in Wimbledon qualifying the following week.

The Ilkley Trophy had become an annual pilgrimage for the Russian, as it had been for dozens of male and female players on the sidelines of Grand Slam tournaments, tennis’ equivalent of the bread line.

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For the people of Ilkley, from tournament organizers within the club to fans sitting in the blue stands, this week in mid-June had become a mainstay in their own calendar, a sporting event that put the picturesque spa town on the map.

SEE YOU SOON: Spectators pictured during the men’s final at Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club June 2019 – the tournament returns this summer. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Then the Covid pandemic hit, the sport came to a halt, leisure habits changed and the Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club suddenly prioritized the fight for its very existence, let alone the right to organize a tournament on the ATP and ITF circuits.

“There were long periods of time when we were closed, mornings when we read the latest guidelines and decided we could stay open and afternoons they had changed the wording and we had to close the place,” recalls Rik Smith, the 37-year-old Longtime Member elected as club president last November. “It was incredibly disruptive and difficult.

“We have brought the club back to a stable position but we have not yet regained pre-pandemic levels,” he says, adding that before Covid there were 2,400 members, now there are between 1900 and 2000.

“Many places have seen that with the duration of the pandemic, there has really been a habitual change in people’s routines.

THAT WAS THEN: Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, playing at Ilkley in 2016. He is now the world number 1. Photo: Daniel Smith/Getty Images

“A lot of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s have invested in gym and cycling equipment that had more disposable income, and they are now reluctant to return to the club. People are also changing the way they exercise.

Routines have also changed over their heads. The 2020 Ilkley Trophy was canceled along with the majority of sports that summer due to the first lockdown. It was understandable. But when the Lawn Tennis Association decided to condense the pre-Wimbledon grass-court season into bubble tournaments in Nottingham in 2021, Ilkley feared their foot on the tennis ladder would be cut off.

“I was aware over those two years that the format they put on in 2021, where Nottingham put on a bigger event which was a combination of Ilkley, Manchester and Surbiton, would become the most sustainable and affordable solution. long term for the LTA,” Smith continued. .

“So from the start of last year it was about making sure they understood the importance of Ilkley as a Northern tournament.

Ilkley’s Rik Smith.

“We had many conversations with the LTA over the past year to make sure they were on board with him and to understand our enthusiasm to welcome him back and our abilities to do so.

“When we first started having these conversations the Covid restrictions were in place because at the time eight/nine months ago it was possible that any tournament would have to take place within the confines of Covid, which would have presented a significant logistical challenge for us.

“So we made sure they were confident we could run it with those settings. It’s likely there will be very few, if any, Covid restrictions around the tournament when it comes back to us in June, and we will return to the same way as in 2019 with the way the tournament is organized.

After a two-year hiatus, the Ilkley Trophy returns from Sunday June 12 to Sunday June 19, a key milestone for men and women as they prepare for Wimbledon qualifying the following week. Ilkley will host the ATP 125 Challenger event for the men and ITF WTT $100,000 for the women on their six grass pitches, five practice pitches and, if the weather changes, their five indoor pitches.

REMEMBER IT: A general view of the game during the Ilkley Trophy at Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club in June 2019. Photo: George Wood/Getty Images

“It was huge for us to get him back,” Smith says. “Absolutely massive. It’s been a pretty big loss for us for the past two years. The purpose of this tournament each year is to generate revenue for the club and a source of income which allows us to reinvest in the tournament for the following year and the club itself.

“It raises the profile of the club, raises awareness, attracts people and shows off the facilities. It’s a great marketing opportunity for us, so not having it means the club falls into the spotlight.

Now back in the limelight, Smith intends to keep Ilkley there. A club player in his youth – “I remember it as a junior when it was just a wooden shack I used to go to on a Friday night”, – Smith is part of the Board of Directors for three years, initially as Chief Compliance Officer.

“I’ve been involved with the club for years, I think it’s because I was too outspoken for so long about things I thought I needed to change, so rather than sitting on the sidelines commenting, I thought I would get involved.

“I’ve seen the whole evolution of the place over the years and now I’d like to lead the next phase of that evolution.”

It starts by helping grow membership to something like pre-pandemic levels.

“I think it’s going to be more organic growth over the next two years, but we’re looking to do some development work over the next few years that will drive that uptake,” he says.

“Renovation and extension of the existing sports hall that we have to do.

“We are potentially considering installing padel courts over the next two years to diversify the racket offer. Padel can prolong the career of tennis and squash players, because where they could not move on a squash or tennis court, they could play padel at a slower pace for a few more years.

There have been challenges, mainly a turnover of general managers and the sad news last month that the club’s respected defender, Richard Lord, had died suddenly.

“It was an incredible shock for everyone,” Smith says.

“With everything that’s going on at the club and his knowledge, there’s a huge void there.

“Fortunately we have managed to re-hire Richard’s assistant, Will Rigg, and we are working closely with the All England Club, they are supporting us, as is STRI which is the Sports Turf Research Institute at Bingley. are the leading turf surface advisers in the UK and globally and are on our doorstep.We also work with the LTA.

“So we will be ready for June 12. So far, we are doing very well with the tickets; we attract a very good audience.

“The people of Ilkley support it as they do any other sporting event, be it cycling, rugby, tennis; Ilkley is a great sporting town. And we can also count on regional support.

And who knows, the next Medvedev might just be on display. For tickets visit www.ilkleytrophy.co.uk

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