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Surbiton: You will be missed

For Aidan Williams, this year's tournament in Surbiton was an emotional goodbye, as the event holds a special place in his heart. He explains why.

The Surbiton Trophy once again rides off into an indefinite hiatus after a glorious nine-year stint, as the LTA restructures tournaments for the 2025 season.

The tournament, which dates back as far as 1890 in its various guises, will be replaced by a like-for-like event in Birmingham, which sees the current nine-year run (excluding Covid absences) come to an end. The Challenger event, which has had numerous periods of not being held, the most recent being between 2009-14, did at least have a glorious ending in 2024.

Even in the eight years I attended, the tournament showed an impressive appetite for growth and development. It's a very different tournament now to the one I first wandered into back in 2016.

Should Birmingham be downgraded?

  • Yes, time to have a WTA in Queens

  • No, it's taking tennis away from other parts of England

Back then it didn't realise its own strengths or what it could be. You cannot say the same now.

The stands were incredibly small back then, just five rows on each side of centre court, with a handful of seats at the side of the other courts. There was a small courtyard area with some food and drinks but not a memorable one. The court layout was quite different, with a small area to work with it didn't understand how it could excel within its confines. You can't say that about the tournament today.

The stands are massively expanded and with the height provided by the north stand, the centre court now has a real presence. It deserves its place at the table.

The media area is tucked away in a corner that also cuts off a small section of the grounds, but which prevents a build-up of people in a narrow path where it used to be a practice court. The circular flow of people is now focused on a point beyond centre, which helps provide more focus to Court Two.

The expansion of the courtyard area with a much better seating area inside and out means Court One has a proper identity that deserves a slightly higher billing than the rest of the courts. The quality of food compared to the price, a weakness for many years, was finally addressed and perfected this year.

To see that growth go to waste is a real shame. When I first went to Surbiton I was naive about Challengers and didn't fully understand them. I knew and loved the upper tiers of tennis but wasn't too sure what to expect.

Yet now I fully understand it and to be without it will be a massive shame.

Looking at the other tournaments, it provides so much that feels unique. The players themselves seem so much more relaxed and indeed I've had many casual conversations with them as a paying fan. You get a sense of the person away from the professional, which is a more unique perspective.

Being able to stand in between two courts and freely watch them both point by point is something that exists elsewhere but is rare. Some courts at Wimbledon are built like that, but not many and the same can be said for Eastbourne. At Surbiton, every court barring centre is built that way and it's a huge delight.

There is the grim reality that the stakes are considerably higher, with the prize money being so much less. These players need these wins, they need to progress. It's not a cheap sport to fund yourself for, so you see a pretty wide range of emotions. When you see a player win, they've needed it and they may well need a couple more.

The knowledge available for the casual fan is incredible. For the last two years, I attended the qualifiers, which were free to attend, and you see so many more players and broaden your knowledge further. As someone particularly fond of watching British players play, this was a chance to see so many more names who I can then hope to see flourish later down the line.

Beyond that, it was the perfect way to reunite with watching grass court tennis after a long 11 months without it.

Challengers are incredible for any fan and as someone in the south of England, Surbiton was the only one that was realistic to attend. There's so much on offer that the top-tier events just cannot provide. Surbiton's evolution also made it feel like a tournament that was rising, evolving and going somewhere.

It's just a bit heartbreaking that, after all that it's been through, that somewhere will be elsewhere.

Surbiton 2023:


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