The AEGON Open in Nottingham begins this weekend with a host of well-known tennis stars already being announced in the line-up. This year's tournament comes with a special twist as it is the first time in 44 years that the Association of Tennis Professional's (ATP) event has been combined with that of a Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) tournament.
It will be the first time since 1973 that the city's tennis fans will be able to witness world-class tennis from both their favourite male and female stars in the same week. This all comes as a result of The Lawn Tennis Association's (LTA) initiative to improve the British grass court season before the players head off to compete at Wimbledon in July.
A chance to get out on the grass
The combined event of the WTA International AEGON Open and AEGON Nottingham Trophy (ATP Challenger) begins this Saturday at the Nottingham Tennis Centre. The event will take place over nine days with a 28-player main draw for the men's event and a 48-player main draw for the women's event.
It is one of the first events of the grass court season and provides valuable practice and preparation for those heading to the capital in the coming weeks. The tournament begins with qualifying this week before the main draw on Monday. The final for both the men's and women's tournament will be taking place on Sunday 18th June.
A host of well-known stars
British player Dan Evans is the stand out entry in the ATP Challenger in Nottingham. He is currently ranked No. 55 in the world and recently suffered disappointment at the French Open as he was knocked out by wild card Tommy Robredo in the first-round. Evans struggled with the heat at Roland Garros and will now be looking forward to preparing for Wimbledon.
Two other confirmed entries to the men's tournament include Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis and Dudi Sela of Israel. Both of these have won the tournament previously in 2010 and 2011 respectively and will be looking to repeat this level of success again this time round.
Other names to be included in the main draw are Norbert Gombos, Marius Copil, Thomas Fabbiano, Go Soeda, Darian King, Luca Vanni, Illya Marchenko and many more.
As for the WTA International AEGON Open, Johanna Konta is without doubt the star name to be heading to Nottingham. However, despite being currently ranked as No. 7 in the world, she recently suffered a shock defeat in the first round at the French Open as No. 109 Su-Wei Hsieh beat her 1-6, 7-6, 6-4. The 26-year-old will be looking to put her troubles of playing on clay behind her at Nottingham as she is set to take part in the full grass court schedule before heading to Wimbledon.
British No. 2 Heather Watson will also feature in Nottingham as she lines up alongside her Fed Cup team mate in Konta. Watson also featured in the tournament last year and it helped her go on to win her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon by winning the mixed-doubles alongside Henri Kontinen. The Brit has been suffering with a hip problem in what has been a difficult season for her so far and she did not manage to qualify for the French Open.
The main draw also features Lucie Šafářová. The 30-year-old has had an impressive career, which may have been even better if it was not for injury problems. Currently ranked at No. 28 in the world, Šafářová featured in the 2015 French Open Final only to be beaten by Serena Williams in three sets.
Other names to be included in the main draw are Anastasija Sevastova, Yulia Putintseva, Lauren Davis, Alison Riske, Christina Mchale, Naomi Osaka and many more.
A chance to get back on track
Tournaments such as this one in Nottingham, still require a significant amount of hard work and positive results in order to qualify for the main draw. One player who is yet to qualify for the main draw of the ATP Challenger is Marcus Willis.
Many will remember Willis for his remarkable run in Wimbledon last year which saw him eventually knocked out 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 against the tennis legend that is Roger Federer in the first-round. This performance saw his world ranking dramatically rise to No. 322. However, his ranking is currently No. 397 and he faces a challenge if he is to qualify for the main draw at Nottingham next week.
His place in the main draw next week is dependent on his performance at the Nottingham Tennis Centre this weekend, as he looks to be one of the biggest names to be taking part in the qualifying rounds.
Local talent given chance to shine
Not only does this sort of tournament give the city's residents chance to witness some world-class tennis from their favourite stars, but also provides a platform for local talent to put their name in the spotlight.
Jocelyn Rae, who is taking part in the WTA International AEGON Open, grew up in Arnold in Nottingham. This makes the event extra special for her personally as she gets to showcase her talent to her friends and family in her own city. Rae will be known by many as Laura Robson's doubles partner and also for featuring in Great Britain's Fed Cup team alongside Konta and Watson earlier this year.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the 26-year-old could end up lifting the trophy next Sunday, if inspired by the home crowd. It is certainly extra special for players who get to compete in their home city.