Tennis - Ireland's Conor Niland says the lack of tennis infrastructure in Ireland is preventing the top players from breaking through on the international circuit. In a column for the Irish Times, Niland says, “We have a poor tournament structure domestically, seniors and juniors.
There’s only about four months of the year from May to August when there is a good run of events. But the rest of the time there’s very little match play. So, effectively, young players are just training from September to April.
Our climate is different from the US, Argentina, Italy and Spain. There, they play in the sun all year around, which we can’t do in Ireland. Playing indoors is not the same to playing on clay. You won’t develop as well.
We don’t have any international events in Ireland, either. If you look at Belgium and Holland, they will have seven or eight junior events and an ATP or WTA main tour event. We just don’t have enough tournaments or clay courts”.
Niland continues, “Look, everybody wants more money, right? But I don’t think more tournaments is going to cost a lot or laying clay courts instead of artificial grass ones. We just need a bit more ambition and be more linked to international tennis.
There’s been too much focus on creating an academy structure in Ireland instead of having a better tournament structure. I would love to see an ATP 250 – a lower level tour tournament - in Ireland. For the exposure, it would give to our players and to offer our tennis an anchor.
It would encourage kids to play it in Ireland. I can’t see why so many countries around the world have a 250 event and we can’t. We had the Irish Open back in the 50s and 60s which attracted the best players in the world”.
Speaking of one of the top Irish juniors, 19-year-old Georgia Drummy, from Dublin, who won a junior tournament in Portugal back in May, Niland says, "Georgia is doing very well. She won a Futures event recently. She spent three years at Chris Evert’s academy in Florida.
I look at her as the blueprint at what we should do in Ireland. When they’re 16 and finished their Junior Cert, they should go to academies in Spain and the US. Take that plunge and learn from the best. It’s too difficult to stay in Ireland and make it in tennis”.
Niland reached as high as No. 129 in the world rankings during his professional career and was the last Irish player to feature in the main draw at Wimbledon.