Niland's effort comes up just short

Fans of Conor Niland cheer him from the stands of Court 17 during his first round match at Wimbledon. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Fans of Conor Niland cheer him from the stands of Court 17 during his first round match at Wimbledon. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Tue, Jun 21, 2011, 01:00

Tennis update:Court 17 at Wimbledon today had team colours more akin to Croke Park or Lansdowne Road than down SW19 way as Irish fans spilled in to watch Conor Niland, who narrowly lost his first-ever Grand Slam match.

Niland was the first Irish player in 27 years to make the first round proper of Wimbledon and he gave a good account of himself to take Adrian Mannarino of France into the final set.

Despite breaking his opponent twice in the final set, Niland’s game left him as he lost five games on the spin to lose 6-4. With a 4-1 lead perhaps the Limerick native got ahead of himself as he went on to lose the five setter, 6-4, 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6

It meant Niland also missed out on the chance to take on former world number one and 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer in the second round.

This was the 29-year-old's fourth attempt at qualifying for Wimbledon. With court 17 nestled in between Court One and Centre Court, Niland may have been away from the main spotlight but was in the thick of the action in this the most famous fortnight in tennis.

The Irishman made the perfect start by breaking his opponent to take the opening set 6-4. Mannarino got his turn to break the Niland serve in the second set and the world number 53 took it 6-4.

The third set was another close affair and went into a tiebreak with Niland having his chances, but ultimately was made to pay for too many forced errors. He eventually lost the set 9-7.

Trailing 2-1 Niland had no option but to go for broke and he got his reward midway through the fourth set. He broke Mannarino's serve to take a 4-2 lead and from there served it out to win the set 6-4.

At 2-2 the biggest match of Niland's career was finely poised heading into the final deciding set. Everything looked set for the historic win with the Irish player two breaks up. However, too many unforced errors at crucial times meant his more experienced opponent reeled off five games to seal the win.

Federer overcame a plucky Mikhail Kukushkin and a chilly breeze to book his place in the second round with a classy 7-6 6-4 6-2 victory.

The six-time champion had a tough start last year against Alejandro Falla and his opponent from Kazakhstan served powerfully to cause Federer a few problems on Centre Court.

"The first match at Wimbledon is never easy. I struggled to get enough returns in during the first set. He played well," said Federer. "It was tricky conditions, a lot of wind. It was really strange how the wind came in."

The Swiss had to wait until the first set tiebreak to see a glimpse of an opportunity and he took it with gusto when the world number 61 netted and then sent a wild shot whistling through the biting wind.

With the England cricket team watching on from the Royal Box, Federer began to produce his own array of strokes in the second set as the fine form he showed to the French Open final to Rafa Nadal continued.

Two impudent volleys and a sublime passing shot were followed by a remarkably low-bouncing slice on the grass which helped the third seed steal the break for 3-2.

From there on it was largely a procession, who last lifted his cherished Wimbledon trophy in 2009.