Surbiton's History Comes Alive At Grass-Court Challenger
Founded in 1881, the Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club's rich history permeates throughout the prestigious stop on the ATP Challenger Tour, as the three-week grass-court swing kicks off each year in the U.K. The atmosphere provides a quaint and traditional setting that the players overwhelmingly appreciate.
Located 15 minutes from central London, the club, which hosted last week's Fuzion 100 Surbiton Trophy, has become a popular attraction with more than 1,500 members. The site's many amenities include 20 tennis courts (11 grass, three clay and six hard, two of which are covered for indoor play), a gym and a bar/lounge area and a main pavilion that was built in 1900.
Some of the members have even offered to donate their time to ensure the tournament runs smoothly.
“We have around 80-100 volunteers do jobs at the event, including stewarding, driving and supporting the tournament in all aspects,” said Roy Staniland, director of the Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club for the past 30 years. “Some put up players in their own houses and really embrace the event. The members are very proud that their club is hosting such a prestigious tournament.”
The historic 137-year-old facility hosted the renowned Surrey Grass Court Championships for 70 editions, before holding its first ATP Challenger Tour event in 1998. The tournament ran for 11 consecutive years and returned to the circuit in 2015 after a brief hiatus.
"I was really happy with the tournament," said Sunday's champion Jeremy Chardy. "There were a lot of courts to practise on and the conditions were great. I'm always happy to play on grass. Some years are more difficult than others, but the game here is a lot of fun. For the moment I'm winning, so it's easy to enjoy."
"We are looking to have more grass-court opportunities for players at the Challenger level in particular," said tournament director George Donnelly. "It's to give these players the best opportunity to practise on grass with good facilities. And now we're seeing those players breaking through at the bigger stages, so it's exciting.
"We had great weather in Surbiton with many spectators coming through the doors. We even had our first queue which we hadn't had at this level for a while. But essentially it's the level of player committed to this tournament, which is fantastic. It really helped and is a great start to the season, as we move on to Nottingham and Ilkley and then The Championships at Wimbledon."
Surbiton is also known for its history-making performances on the court. Past champions include former Top 10 stars Mardy Fish (2006) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2007), with Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Greg Rusedski and Thomas Johansson also competing there.
In fact, future Wimbledon champions Hewitt and Federer both kicked off their professional grass-court careers at this very club, in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
And last year, Japan's Yuichi Sugita became the first player to win grass-court titles on both the ATP Challenger Tour and ATP World Tour in a single season. After winning in Surbiton, he lifted his maiden tour-level trophy in Antalya.
"It was a very relaxing week in Surbiton," added Taylor Fritz, who was making his second tournament appearance. "I think it helps me prepare for the bigger [ATP World Tour] events. It's such a nice, cozy tournament and just being in this environment is good for me to mentally recharge. You feel the energy here, with the fans so close to the court."
Fritz is one of many current #NextGenATP stars to grace the grass courts of Surbiton. Last year, Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur all featured in the same section of the qualifying draw. Today, the trio are the only teenagers in the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings.
Far more planning was devoted to organising the tournament this year than when it first launched. Preparations began 10 to 11 months away from when the first ball was hit and two weeks were devoted to building the venue out to accommodate spectators, compared to the three-day build in the tournament’s first year.
"It's good to be playing at home and being around the other British boys,” said semi-finalist Daniel Evans, who was the last remaining British player in the draw. “The club has a traditional English feel to it and it’s nice that there's a lot of people here watching.”