Niland bows out through illness

 

Tennis:Conor Niland lasted only 44 minutes before he tossed in the towel against World number one Novak Djokovic at the US Open last night after succumbing to illness. Niland, the first Irishman to play in the tournament, has been suffering from food poisoning since Sunday.

Niland had been rewarded for coming through three rounds of qualifying with the ultimate draw but he was forced to retire trailing 6-0 5-1. Despite the help of doctors and friends, including Andy Murray, he could not recover.

The 29-year-old from Limerick blamed his condition on either pork or a salad he had eaten on Sunday night at a restaurant he chose not to name, and he said: "I haven't been able to keep much down.

"I had a lot of medication from the doctor here but I had nothing in my legs, just no energy out there. It's been a tough couple of days and it's pretty disappointing I wasn't able to go out and play normally.

"When I heard (the draw) on Saturday, I was like, 'That's it now, I've qualified and I get to do that'. It was unbelievable. And then I get this random bout of food poisoning."

It was particularly harsh on Niland because in June he had come through qualifying at Wimbledon and led Adrian Mannarino 4-1 in the fifth set with the winner to play Roger Federer in round two before letting it slip away.

The Limerick player added: "I feel like I can play grand slam main draws, that's my level. If I can start doing it more regularly at the Challenger level, start to win maybe a couple of tournaments. It won't be my last chance (at a grand slam)."

Djokovic, who last year was down two sets to one and a break against Serbian compatriot Viktor Troicki in the first round before pulling through and going on to reach the final, had sympathy for Niland's plight.

The top seed said: "It's unfortunate for my opponent, obviously. But I felt great on the court, and that's something that's really important for the start of the tournament."

Rafa Nadal began his title defence with a straight sets win over Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan. The Spaniard won 6-3 7-6 7-5 but it was a performance that raised as many questions as answers.

Last year, Nadal completed his personal grand slam after working tirelessly on his serve, turning a shot that had been a weakness into a weapon. His serve was broken just five times in the seven matches he played last year.

Against Golubev, ranked 98th in the world, his serve was broken six times.

"It's a positive start," Nadal said. "It was unbelievable that I won straight sets, but it is still a victory in straight sets."

Perhaps the only thing in professional tennis looking more under the weather than Niland right now is the state of the women's game. After just two days at Flushing Meadows, not one reigning grand slam singles champion is left in the draw.

Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open last year and the Australian Open earlier this year, did not attempt to defend her title because of a stomach muscle problem.

On Monday, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, made an inglorious early exit and was joined a day later by China's Li Na, the French Open winner.

It is little wonder that Serena Williams, less than a month away from turning 30 and in the early stages of a comeback after surviving a life-threatening lung disorder, has been installed as the favourite to win the last grand slam of the year.

In the last match of Tuesday's night session, the American sent an ominous warning to her rivals when she began her campaign with a 6-1 6-1 win over Serbia's Bojana Jovanovski.

Caroline Wozniacki, the women's world number one, provided a glimpse of the ruthless streak her critics have accused her of lacking, demolishing unseeded Spaniard Nuria Llagostera Vives 6-3 6-1.

The Dane, who has been in the headlines as much for her relationship with Rory McIlroy as her performances on court, smashed 22 winners in a lopsided victory that took just 80 minutes.

It was as impressive a start to the tournament as anyone has made so far but Wozniacki was forced to defend herself, and by extension the women's game, because she has still not won a grand slam title.

"They can say what they want," she snarled. "I've won a lot of tournaments. I'm number one in the world."