Britain’s male tennis players have been lacing up their shoes and taking to the court at the Lexus Nottingham Tennis Centre to compete in the inaugural Nottingham Challenger event. 

Tennis players trained in Europe have been facing up alongside their British counterparts, in different stages of their careers, to warm up for the start of the season without the pressure of qualifying points.

The event organisers say that Britons being able to drive instead of fly to the event means they can get their foot on the professional ladder more easily.

British Number 9 player Billy Harris has been taking part in the tournament. Born in Nottingham, he left home and travelled Europe, living out of a van, to chase his dream of becoming a professional tennis player.

“At the start, you have no points or money to travel. I had three and a half years in the van and, in that time, covered most of Europe,” he says.

He made it to the third qualifying round of Wimbledon in 2023 and the second qualifying round of the Australian Open this year. His aim this year is to continue building on his qualifying woes.

“I’d like to qualify for a grand slam, that is a big goal of mine and try to play some ATP 250s. I want to try and play the bigger tournaments and try and win some matches in those.”

There are 19 Britons taking part in the Nottingham Challenger event, however many people are competing from around the world. Players to look out for are:

Abdullah Shelbayh – The Jordanian made it to the third qualifying round of the Australian Open . He also reached two ATP Challenger Tour finals in 2023, winning in Charleston, beating Britons Ryan Peniston and Oliver Crawford on the way there.

Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard – The Frenchman was in top form in 2023, reaching the ATP Challenger semi-finals in Chicago and Salinas, and winning at Leon. He also made it to the first round of his home grand slam in 2023 via wildcard.

Mikhail Kukushkin – The 36-year-old Kazakh is on the tail end of his career, reaching 39th in the world in 2019. He is a four-time Davis Cup quarter-finalists; he has a positive record against numerous top 10 stars, like Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner and Fabio Fognini.

Source: atptour.com

The event is part of the Lawn Tennis Association’s Performance Competitions Calendar which aims to provide more opportunities for British professional players to play games on home soil.

This calendar will also include an international ITF World Tennis Tour in Nottingham for two weeks, from April 22 for male and female tennis players.

“We are abroad all of the time so I am really happy that all the British guys can play here”

Ryan Peniston, Men’s British Number 7 Tennis Player

Amy Flatman, the media officer at the LTA, believes that having the event in Nottingham at this point of the season means that many players here could get the points to then play in the Nottingham Open tournament, taking place in June.

“The event is a forerunner to the Rothesay Open for men and women that takes place later this year, in June which is also held here on grass,” she says.

“Allowing these players to practice today means that world-class tennis can be on your doorstep.”

Ryan Peniston (sitting down) and Billy Harris (left) between sets.

Harris took part in both the single and doubles tournaments, taking part in the latter alongside British number 7 Ryan Peniston.

“It is great to have a tournament in England. We are abroad all of the time so I am really happy that all the British guys can play here,” he says.

Peniston shares similar aims to Harris and aims to build on where he is despite making it to the second round of 2023 Wimbledon and playing two-time tournament winner Andy Murray on Centre Court.

“Reaching the top 100 is in my goals for sure. To achieve what I can achieve, I need to keep working hard,” he says.

Next week, the pair will travel to Bahrain for the Bahrain Ministry of Interior Tennis Challenger to compete as singles players.