THE GRASS-COURT tennis season is back and fans of the sport are eagerly awaiting the pre-Wimbledon events across the country.

Supporters in Greater Manchester have just two days to wait until qualifying begins for the 2017 Aegon Manchester Trophy as part of the ITF Women’s Pro Circuit.

While The Northern Lawn Tennis Club in Didsbury puts the finishing touches to its pitches, here is all you need to know about this year’s spectacle…

What is the Aegon Trophy Series?

Comprising of men and women’s events around the country, the Series offers players the opportunity to compete on grass in the lead up to Wimbledon.

The Series now offers more prize-money at its events than any comparable circuit anywhere in the world with figures hitting $850,000 overall in prize money – more than double the money available at last year’s event.

Aegon Manchester Trophy Tournament Director, Richard Joyner, said:

“We’re delighted to be hosting a women’s international event at The Northern in Manchester.

“It is the largest prize-money event ever to be staged in the north-west, and our player line-up reflects this. As well as Naomi providing British interest, we also have a strong overseas field, which promises to provide some great tennis to view over the week.”

2017 GRASS-COURT EVENTS CALENDAR (Aegon Trophy Series events in bold): June 5-11 (week 1)

  • Aegon Surbiton Trophy at Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club (combined ITF Women’s Pro Circuit & ATP Challenger events)

June 12-18 (week 2)

  • Combined WTA International Aegon Open Nottingham & Aegon Nottingham Trophy (ATP Challenger) events at Nottingham Tennis Centre
  • Aegon Manchester Trophy at Northern Lawn Tennis Club, Manchester (ITF Women’s Pro Circuit)

June 19-25 (week 3)

  • Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club, London (ATP World Tour 500 event)
  • Aegon Classic at Edgbaston Priory Club, Birmingham (WTA Premier)
  • Aegon Ilkley Trophy at Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club (combined ITF Women’s Pro Circuit & ATP Challenger events)

June 26 – July 1 (week 4)

  • Aegon International (combined WTA Premier & ATP World Tour 250 event) at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne
  • Aegon Southsea Trophy at Canoe Lake Leisure (ITF Women’s Pro Circuit)
  • Wimbledon Qualifying, Bank of England Sports Club, Roehampton, London

July 3-16 (week 5 & 6)

The Championships, Wimbledon

What happened last year?

Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown holds the trophy after winning the 2016 event in convincing fashion.

The event at The Northern in 2016 was the men’s ATP Challenger and charismatic German, Dustin Brown, won it. The popular dreadlocked player overcame Taiwan’s Yen-Hsun Lu in straight sets 7-6 6-1. To add to the occasion, Brown and Lu are doubles partners and the crowd witnessed a scintillating encounter – particularly the opening set.

Following some clever volleys and neat play at the net, Brown stormed into a 5-1 second set lead to ensure the final game was all but a formality in lifting the cup.

Having gained worldwide recognition after beating Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2015, Brown honed his game to reach a career high ranking of world number 64 in October 2016 following success at the Northern in the summer months.

Now it has been converted into an ITF women’s event, there is hope that crowds can get behind another fan favourite in Stockport-born Naomi Broady, who regularly trains at the club.

Who are the British hopes?

Naomi Broady (British number 2, world 114 according to live WTA rankings)

The Stockport-born player has recently overtaken Heather Watson in the rankings to become the second highest ranked player behind world number seven, Johanna Konta.

The poster girl for the 2017 event, 27-year-old Broady will have one eye on the elevated prize money for this year’s event to $100,000. Standing at 6ft 2 inches and with nine career ITF titles already in the trophy cabinet, there won’t be many players wanting to face Broady in this tournament.

“It’s really special for me to play at home. It’s my home club and I’ll get to have all my friends and family who don’t get to come and watch me very often,” she said.

“My grandma has never watched me at all so this will be her first time.

“Obviously, although people say Wimbledon is the home tournament for Brits, for a Northerner it’s quite far away. So this is my home tournament and I’m excited to play. I’ve told all the girls I’m the official tour guide and I’m just excited to have everyone come to my city as well, I’m such a proud Manc.”

With her serve an area that gains particular attention, the Greater Manchester player will undoubtedly be difficult to break. But form is a factor and with a 7-5 7-6 defeat to France’s Oceane Dodin in the quarter-finals at Surbiton, Broady will be looking to go at least a step further at The Northern.

Harriet Dart (British number 8, world 303 according to live WTA rankings)

The London-born 20-year-old is in fine form as, at the time of writing, she books a place in the $100,000 Surbiton semi-finals with fellow Brit Heather Watson. Granted a wildcard into the main draw, Dart has avoided having to negotiate through the qualifiers.

Having made her WTA debut at the 2015 Aegon International, Dart is showing form and maturity as the grass-court season commences. A convincing 6-2 6-0 quarter-final win over Russian Karolina Muchova was concluded in an impressive 59 minutes. Despite stats showing a worse first and second serve percentage in comparison to Muchova, Dart will now believe she could win her first $100k ITF event.

While Broady is the poster girl at The Northern, many onlookers may see Dart as a player who could, similarly to Surbiton, spring some more grass surprises.

Gabriella Taylor (British number 9, world 307 according to live WTA rankings)

Naturally, Taylor is the outside bet from a British perspective but there is a player in every tournament that throws up a few surprises as shown by Brown in the last few years on grass.

Just like Dart, Taylor no longer needs to negotiate her way into the main draw through qualifying as the Southampton-born 19-year-old joined Katy Dunn and Katie Swann as wildcards. Having already won two ITF titles – her most recent came at South Korea’s Changwon event in mid-May – Taylor’s stock is on the rise among avid domestic tennis fans and she could pose problems for many in the international line-up heading to Didsbury.

Full tournament entry list can be found here.

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