Niland books place at Wimbledon

Sat, Jun 18, 2011, 01:00

Tennis:After a series of rain delays over the last three days, Conor Niland wasted little time when the weather finally relented in London this afternoon as he secured his place in the first round of Wimbledon with a straight sets win (6-3, 7-6, 6-4) over Nikola Mektic.

With no play possible on Thursday, and just six games managed yesterday, the Limerick man clinched the first set in double quick time when play resumed this morning.

However, yet another delay to allow a shower pass through at the Bank of England Club in Roehampton threatened to stymie his progress but when the sun remerged Niland edged the second set on a tie-breaker.

And although his Croatian opponent refused to buckle, Niland broke him again in the third to become the first Irish player in the main Wimbledon draw since Matt Doyle back in 1984.

Niland won’t learn his first round opponent until all the qualifying matches are completed but could face Andy Roddick, Tomas Berdych, Gilles Simon or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after they were drawn against qualifiers yesterday.

Niland is ranked 184th in the world and won four matches to complete his qualifying success, making him the first Irishman this century to earn a place in the tournament.

Niland’s success is made all the more remarkable by the fact he saved four match points in the first round of qualifying, before overcoming Josselin Ouanna of France 8-6 in the deciding set.

“It felt like it was my destiny to qualify after that win really,” Niland said this evening. “I was a set down in the second round too. I’ve always wanted to be part of the biggest tournaments in tennis and it’s great to be here at Wimbledon now.”

The match against Mektic was scheduled for Thursday but rained off, and then the players managed only six games yesterday, with Niland moving 4-2 ahead in the opening set.

With downpours affecting London again today, the match continued to be stop-start, but Niland did enough to fend off world number 274 Mektic.

“I came out and played good tennis after each of the breaks,” he said. “Rather than hang around the locker rooms, which were really busy, I went upstairs to get some quiet each time we came off.

“It’s the fourth year I’ve tried to qualify and I’d lost in the first round each time before this. I played pretty well each time but just missed out against some very good players.

“But I always felt I could play decently here and now I’m delighted, it’s made it all worth it. Of all the grand slams to qualify for this would have been top of my list.”

Niland expects a large contingent of friends and family to travel over from Ireland for his first-round match. As yet he does not know his opponent but he said: “I don’t mind who I play. I won’t be too picky.

“I know I’m good enough to win matches in grand slams. I’ve beaten players in the top 100 before so I can do it again.”