Irish tennis nowhere to be seen at Wimbledon

There were no Irish players in the junior or the senior draws at this year’s event

Ireland’s Conor Niland after his defeat to France’s Adrian Mannarino on day two of the 2011 Wimbledon Championships.

Ireland’s Conor Niland after his defeat to France’s Adrian Mannarino on day two of the 2011 Wimbledon Championships.

Thu, Jul 4, 2013, 01:00

As Britain counts the cost of not having women tennis players in the latter stages of the championships one of the constant questions asked here is why are there no Irish players to be seen.

James Magee was the only player to have earned a high enough world ranking to gain entry to the qualification tournament in Roehampton, where he lost in the first round. There were no Irish players in the women’s qualifying tournament, 19-year-old Amy Bowtell at 455 the highest Irish woman in the WTA rankings. There were no Irish male or female players in the junior tournament.

That the Brits can’t get any of their women to join German Sabine Lisicki, Polish Agnieszka Radawanska, French Marion Bartoli or Belgian Kirsten Flipkens into todays’ semi-finals is a hair shirt they wear every year.

But the British experience has shown one thing above all else and that is money invested into individual players and the sport generally is not a solution.

For Wimbledon 2012 the club made a record profit of £37.753 million (€44,423 million), seven per cent up on the previous year. The organisation invests that profit back into British tennis.

Money spent
It spent £12.3 million (€14.47 million) between 2011-12 investing in developing British tennis players and more than £17million (€20 million) on encouraging people to take up the sport. The LTA said the number of active tennis players was growing and pointed to a survey by Sport England which said adult participants rose by 18 per cent to 445,000.

Speaking to the BBC last month former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash was in no doubt on the issue. The London-based former champion has sent his son to the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, where Murray spent two years.

“The Spanish players are tough because they are brought up the hard way and thrust into solid competition against senior male players at a very early age. It’s a case of sink or swim,” said Cash

“Every day they empty crates, hitting hundreds of tennis balls, honing the ground strokes and technique. At weekends, they play in extremely demanding contests,” he added. “The kids learn resilience, stop using lame excuses and lose their softness.” Britain had 25 players in the senior and junior women’s draws, Flipkens country, Belgium, four players, Agnieszka’s Poland three, Lisicki’s Germany and Bartoli’s France 10. Zimbabwe, India, Israel and New Zealand each had one woman, Lativia two, Estonia three and Serbia five.

Hurt his game
Money isn’t the only answer although McGee would strongly argue that a lack of it – €1,200 per week on tour in Europe – has hurt his game. At one stagemoney was to tight that he was forced to use more durable strings to make them last longer, which made his racquet less forgiving and eventually led to a shoulder injury. In May of last year a frustrated McGee posted some questions to Irish tennis.

1. Is tennis being promoted well enough in Ireland to play the game? 2. Are there enough high level tennis coaches in Ireland? 3. Is there enough leadership in our tennis culture? 4. Is there enough funding for our professional players? 5. Does tennis get enough media exposure in Ireland? 6. Are we doing everything in our control to produce great tennis players? 7. Why haven’t we built indoor clay courts the way the French have?

Although the answers to some of those are self evident, the current Irish participation in Grand Slam events since Conor Niland retired is embarrassingly poor and there appears to be little in the pipeline. A year after writing in his professional tennis player’s blog, most of the Irish number one’s questions to a nuanced issue remain valid today.