In-form Niland braced for major test

Thu, May 20, 2010, 01:00

TENNIS:THE RANKINGS today are unimportant. Conor Niland, who seeks to become the first Irish player in the modern age to qualify for the main draw at Roland Garros, has already beaten Britain’s Alex Bogdanovic, who was ranked higher.

Today’s German opponent Julian Reister, placed several rungs above Niland, will hardly give the Irishman a second thought as he presses on to meet one of his professional ambitions, which is to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam. Three wins in this qualifying event would secure that for Niland.

Reister, a 6ft 2in right-hander from Hamburg, has never won a singles title in the ATP Challenger Tour, but has picked up two titles at the lower ITF Futures level on carpet and indoors. But he recently beat Niland in a tournament in Russia, winning that meeting 6-4 in the third set.

But the Limerick man has two career wins on the Challenger Tour and while those were on hard court, he has also had five career wins at Futures level, three of those on clay.

Niland has been by far the more active player of the two and the hope is that the battle-hardness of playing all over the world this season will pay off against the younger German, who is rated as a dangerous opponent by Tennis Ireland coach Gary Cahill, currently in Paris with Niland.

“Yeah, Conor played him in Russia and lost 6-4 in the third. It was a tight match,” said Cahill yesterday. “But Conor now knows what Reister plays like. The last time out Conor told me that the match was played at a very high level.

“But Conor has become more aggressive and against Bogdanovic in the first match he was able to finish the points.

“That’s one of the reasons he has been doing well. He has done other things which have helped him improve but on court you can see that. His decision-making has been very good and it is rare now that he will lose a point because of a bad decision.”

The Irish number one will need all of his experience against Reister and, as much as having lost to the German, Niland appreciates what he has to do better to win.

“I watched him a bit,” says Cahill of Reister. “He’s pretty good. He’s aggressive and has a lot of power, good at the net and serves decent.”

If Niland qualifies this week, he will join John Morrissey, who has been accepted into the junior tournament.

Meanwhile, top-seed Maria Sharapova dispatched qualifier Dia Evtimova 6-3 6-0 in the second round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg yesterday.

The Russian former world number one did not face a single break point as she swept past her Bulgarian opponent in just over an hour.

Evtimova did not get a look in as Sharapova won 100 per cent of points on her serve in the first set and 91 per cent in the second set.

Third-seed Virginie Razzano from France crashed out as Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson came from a set down to win 3-6 6-3 6-2.