Kubler Captures Lexus Ilkley Trophy Title

Jason Kubler (photo: James Gray Photography)

ILKLEY/WASHINGTON, June 24, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The ATP Challenger Tour grass-court swing concluded Saturday with the final of the Lexus Ilkley Trophy set upon the idyllic, 143-year-old Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club. It’s one of the most scenic and picturesque venues on the Challenger circuit in the City of Bradford in West Yorkshire, in Northern England.

The title match, a first-time meeting between Austria’s Sebastian Ofner and Jason Kubler of Australia, matched a pair of Top-100 players both searching to win their first grass-court title. When it ended after an hour and 20 minutes, it was Kubler who proved to be the steadier player, winning 6-4, 6-4. The victory was worth €19,650 in first-place prize money and 125 ATP Rankings points for Kubler.

Ofner, 27, from Bruck an der Mur in the Austrian state of Styria, and the Brisbane, Queensland native Kubler, 30, arrived on Centre Court having never faced each other before. Each had successfully navigated the 32-player field and won four straight matches to reach the final.

En route, the No. 3 seed Ofner, ranked 81st following a run to the fourth round at Roland Garros, needed just 50 minutes to beat 123rd-ranked Zsombor Piros of Hungary, 6-3, 6-0 to reach the Ilkley title match. On the other hand, the fourth-seeded Kubler, ranked 97th, came from a set down to eliminate No. 147 Arthur Cazaux of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. The 20-year-old Cazaux, a two-time Challenger Tour champion, recently enjoyed a breakthrough run to the Nottingham Challenger final, where he lost to three-time major champion Andy Murray.

However, Kubler, who teamed with fellow Aussie Rinky Hijikata to win the Australian Open men’s doubles title earlier this season, carried the momentum from his semifinal victory over Cazaux into Saturday’s final and attacked Ofner from the outset in this Wimbledon Championships tune-up event.

Kubler withstood 11 aces by Ofner and his two breaks of the Austrian’s serve – once in each set – were a difference maker. Not to mention, Kubler won 90 percent (27 of 30) of his first-serve points and backed it up by winning 65 percent (13 of 20) of his second serves. The Australian did not face any break points on his serve. He outpointed Ofner 68-55.

While it was Ofner’s fifth loss in a Challenger final this season, it all added up to Kubler’s eighth Challenger title and first since May 2022 in Little Rock, Ark. He joins an active list that includes Murray, Nick Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe, who have won Challenger titles on all three surfaces. Now, it is on to Wimbledon for both competitors. Kubler, who will advance 22 spots to No. 75 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, already had a direct entry into the main draw sewn up before the Ilkley final. Meanwhile, Ofner, who will move up to No. 69 on Monday, was given one of the remaining wild cards to the Championships.

Afterward, Kubler said, “I always knew today was going to be a tough match. Seb is a great player and he’s shown that all week – the form he’s been in has been incredible. Today was just one of those days where I hit a lot of my spots on serve and got my returns when I needed it. It’s great to play these matches against top quality opponents like this.”

Escobar and Nedovyesov win doubles title

Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador and Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan rallied from a set down to win the Lexus Ilkley Trophy doubles crown on Friday. The top seeds beat No. 3 seeds Robert Galloway of the United States and John Patrick Smith of Australia, 2-6, 7-5, 11-9, to win the one-hour, 29-minute title match despite being outpointed 67-63.

A week after losing the title final of the Libéma Open, Escobar (ranked 54th) and Nedovyesov (ranked 53rd) swept to four straight victories this week and improved to 7-1 together this season.

By winning, Escobar and Nedovyesov will split first-prize money of €8,420 and each earned 125 rankings points.