NOTHING but positive words have been emanating from tournament director Rik Smith about the 2024 Lexus Ilkey Trophy.

First there is the entry list for men (148,625 euros ATP Challenger) and women ($100,000 ITF Women’s World Tour), which is stronger than it has ever been.

Ticket sales, with the increased capacity on Centre Court, are 75 per cent up on where they were last year, while the courts, despite all the rain, are in better condition than ever.

And when you throw in things like the vastly increased public area for food and relaxation, plus a big screen showing matches on Centre Court as well as Euro 2024, then Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club are, weather permitting, on course for their best-ever tournament.

The stand-out male players to have entered are three former world top-tenners in Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, Belgium’s David Goffin and France’s Richard Gasquet.

While Shapovalov, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2021, is only 25, Goffin, who twice reached the quarter-finals at The All England Club, and Gasquet, who turns 38 during the tournament, are both in the twilights of exceptional careers.

Goffin, 33, who played at Ilkley last year, has twice reached the last eight at Wimbledon, while Gasquet was a semi-finalist there as long ago as 2007.

Top seed is Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori, who is currently world No 67, but has been as high as 37, although, surprisingly, he has never gone beyond the second round of a Grand Slam.

Second seed is likely to be Gasquet’s compatriot Hugo Gaston, the world No 88.

Perhaps Mirjam Bjorklund, who won the women’s singles at Ilkley last year and is engaged to Shapovalov, whispered in his shell-like and said some nice things about the Stourton Road venue!

Top seed among the women is Zhouxuan Bai, the world No 93 maintaining a strong Chinese presence at Ilkley down the years.

The 21-year-old, who is only 10 places below her career best, broke into the world’s top 100 last November and reached the second round at Wimbledon last year having qualified - her first singles win in a Grand Slam.

Second seed is scheduled to be America’s Clare Liu, the former world junior No 1 who recently turned 24 and is world No 109, although she has been as high as 52.

Other entrants include former junior world champion Dalma Galfi, from Hungary, who won at Ilkley in two years ago and reached the third round at Wimbledon last year.

Galfi is ranked 145 in the world, but 2024 Ilkley winner Bjorklund is now world ranked 272 and may need some help to get into the tournament.

In addition, there is much-touted Czech Linda Frurvirtova, American Katie Volynets, a former Ilkley semi-finalist, and Oxenhope’s Francesca Jones, who is part of a British entry that includes former Ilkley runner-up Sonay Kartal, Lily Miyazaki and Leeds’ Naiktha Bains.

Smith, who is also Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club's chairman, said: “It is the best on the playing side that we have ever seen, with names such as Shapovalov, Goffin and Gasquet, and while the women’s field might not have such well-known names it is also as strong as we have seen.

“Mirjam Bjorklund, who won last year, is not even certain to get in, and we have a lot of players ranked in the 120s and 130s.

“We have again increased seating capacity on Centre Court (to about 1300) and ticket sales are 75 per cent higher than they were at this time last year.

“Friday is sold out and there are only limited tickets available for Thursday, while we are holding back some tickets for finals day.

“The courts are in better condition than ever, despite all the rain, as we have the advantage of being on a flood plain. The All England Club have tested the courts for hardness and they are better than last year.

“Also we have a vastly increased area for the public and will be showing matches from the Centre Court on a large screen as well as football from Euro 2024, which will hopefully keep people entertained into the evening.”

The tournament starts on Saturday (June 15) with free entry into the qualifying and finishes on Saturday, June 22.

Next year’s Lexus Ilkley Trophy is scheduled a week earlier from June 7-14 as the grass-court season is being revamped.

Smith said: “This is beneficial to us as we will no longer be up against the men’s event at Queen’s Club, which could mean that we have an improved entry as players seek grass-court tournaments prior to Wimbledon.”

In 2025, Ilkley will be up against a WTA 500 tournament at Queen’s Club as women’s tennis returns to the London venue for the first time in 50 years.

The exact classification of the men’s and women’s events at Ilkley will be revealed over the coming months.