If there’s one sport that captures the “get back on the horse” ethos, it’s tennis: After a loss, there’s always another tournament right around the corner.
Sometimes, that turnaround can bring with it the challenges of adapting to a completely different surface.
As the sport’s premier clay-court event, the French Open, draws to its conclusion, a number of players who lost in the first week or didn’t make it out of qualifying have already turned their attention to grass in hopes of achieving glory at the next Grand Slam tournament on the horizon, Wimbledon. The first stop in that quest is the Surbiton Trophy, in England.
The tournament was first held as a WTA International Tennis Federation event back in 1997. Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand captured that title over Aleksandra Olsza, reversing the result of the 1995 Girls’ Wimbledon final. The ATP hosted its inaugural event in Surbiton on the Challenger circuit a year later, with Gianluca Pozzi taking the title over future doubles standout Kevin Ullyett.
After a detour to Nottingham from 2009 to 2014, both tours returned to Surbiton in 2015.
Over the years, a number of notable players have made their presence felt on the grass of the suburban London neighborhood. On the men’s side, the roster of former champions includes former Wimbledon quarterfinalists Mardy Fish, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Yen-Hsun Lu. The women’s honor roll features former grass-court standouts like Tanasugarn and Brenda Schultz-McCarthy. Current members of the WTA Top 20 have also had stellar results in Surbiton: the defending champion is Magdalena Rybarikova, while Naomi Osaka reached the final in 2015.
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This year’s edition of the tournament boasted a strong field in both draws. Among the seeded players on the men’s side, five stand among the Top 100 in the world, led by No. 86 Jeremy Chardy, who reached Friday's quarterfinal round. American Taylor Fritz, ranked No. 68, entered the tournament late and battled through qualifying to reach the main draw. His run was halted by budding Australian star Alex de Minaur, the No. 6 seed who’s poised to crack the Top 100 for the first time with a strong effort this week (as of Friday, he's into the quarterfinals).
De Minaur isn’t the only player from Down Under who made headlines at the Challenger tournament.
To test the stability of his elbow, which forced him to withdraw from the French Open, Nick Kyrgios entered the doubles event. Kyrgios, who won his first doubles title in Lyon right before Roland Garros with Jack Sock, was unable to replicate that feat with another American, Jackson Winthrow—the duo lost their first-round match to N.Sriram Balaji and Vishnu Vardhan.
In addition, the doubles event featured Kyrgios’ compatriot Lleyton Hewitt, whose brief retirement has been interrupted by forays into doubles draws this year. The 37-year-old reached the semifinals in Surbiton with Alex Bolt before losing to British brothers Neal and Ken Skupski.
In the WTA event, home favorite Heather Watson sat atop the draw, but lost her opening match to countrywoman Gabriella Taylor.
Meanwhile, Alison Riske, the second seed, has been a walking study this week in how best to navigate life as a professional tennis player. Right before the French Open, the American reached her fifth career singles final—and first on clay—in Nurnberg, Germany. That form then carried over to Paris, where she took a set from world No. 1 and French Open finalist Simona Halep before losing in three sets. Riske, a quarterfinalist in Surbiton, is currently in contention to win her first ITF title in two years, which came on grass in Eastbourne.
While success at the All England Tennis Club is typically reserved for the game’s greats, Surbiton provides the first steps of preparation for those hoping to leave a lasting impression during the brief grass-court season. Even if those steps are made while slides are still happening across the English Channel.
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