No love game as Curran lets fly

 

On Tennis: The story headlined Patriot Games in the British-based magazine Ace should carry a kind of health warning for those involved in the coaching and teaching of the former Irish Federation Cup player Claire Curran.

The doubles specialist chose to use the magazine to not only reminisce on her past life as an Irish Federation Cup player but also air her views on her future career with Britain. And when the article was published in the April edition of the magazine, some ill-judged comments caused a few splutters in the Irish game.

Curran - who in 2005 successfully applied to change national allegiance from Ireland to Britain and last month played alongside Anne Keothayong Elena Baltacha and Katie O'Brien in Britain's failed Euro African Zone Federation Cup promotional play-off against Slovakia - didn't hold back in talking to the reporter Dominic Bliss.

But first, let it be reiterated the decision to play for Britain in any sport is not an unusual one for a native of Belfast (Californian-born Matt Doyle played for years with Ireland in the Davis Cup, and another US native, Ann Mall, currently plays Federation Cup for Ireland, so we in Ireland are not averse to casting nets for the strongest team obtainable).

What has furrowed some brows and rattled a few cages in the Irish tennis fraternity is Curran's declaration of "not wanting to get into the political side of sport" before going on to explain the impetus for her move to Britain was almost entirely political.

"I don't want to get into the political side of the sport but when people ask me why I change my nationality, I tell them I've always been British. All my life I've felt British," she told Ace.

"When I was playing on the Republic of Ireland Federation Cup team and they were playing the Irish National Anthem, it felt a bit odd to me. But because I'm from Northern Ireland, I never had any option but to go through the Irish tennis system."

Of course the reference to a "Republic of Ireland" team belies the fact the Irish team is, like the hockey and rugby teams, a 32-county entity.

To offer further context, as a talented teenage player, Curran was housed in Dublin, schooled in Dublin and professionally coached in Dublin at the expense of Tennis Ireland.

The view abroad is that she or an older guardian might have "fessed up" a little earlier to her deep dissatisfaction with the system and with life on the Irish team rather than accept the package and all of its disconcerting non-Britishness and then strike out at the twilight of her career.

She goes on, and the highly respected Theresian School, not far from the Leinster rugby ground in Donnybrook, Dublin, also takes a heavy delivery.

"It traumatised me a bit," she said. "I was a Protestant going to a Catholic school. I didn't like it and I was very much by myself all the time."

Why Curran, given such alleged trauma, did not switch to a school of Protestant or mixed ethos in the area - one thinks of Newpark, Wesley College or St Andrews - is not explained.

Curran eventually earned a tennis scholarship and at 18 years of age moved to the University of California at Berkeley, just outside San Francisco.

Officially, Tennis Ireland is forbearing about the interview.

"The interview would have caused some degree of resentment within the organisation," says Tennis Ireland chief executive Des Allen.

"But I believe people would have read it, digested it and moved on from it. If the move to Britain rejuvenates her career or improves her world doubles ranking, then good luck to her.

"But certainly there would have been some resentment given the role played by Irish tennis in her very early career and in bringing her on."

Curran is exclusively a doubles player and has worked hard to get into the world top 100. With various partners she has won 11 career titles and was once ranked 89th in the WTA's doubles rankings. She has recently gone out to 107th.

Sadly for the 29-year-old, who is finding living in London to her liking, a consistent doubles partner has been hard to find.

"Essentially every week I'm going in blind," she told Ace. "In Europe, finding a regular doubles partner is very difficult because of the different languages and cultures. The French stick together, the Italians stick together . . . It's unfortunate there's not another British doubles player I can play with. That would be ideal for me."

Indeed, that would appear to be so.

Mills among notable names for DCU forum

The upcoming National Tennis Forum to be held in DCU on May 20th hopes to "grow" Irish tennis and "develop best practice in club structures" throughout Ireland.

Tennis Ireland governs approximately 200 clubs with a combined membership of around 70,000, of which a very high percentage play the game.

The DCU jamboree is primarily aimed at club administrators and coaches, whose interest is the growth and development of tennis for all categories of club members.

Delegates will hear from a panel of international speakers with a background in the development of the game.

Topics will include sponsorship and media management, while Tennis Ireland's proposals for the development of membership services will also be presented for the first time.

One notable speaker will be the celebrated Wimbledon referee Alan Mills. Another will be John Crowther, who was chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association for almost 10 years, from 1996 to 2005. Given Wimbledon made a profit of approximately £27.04 million last year, and that with minimal advertising around the courts, Crowther's views are probably worth listening to.

Tennis Ireland will also use the forum to launch a "national member registration programme", to provide ranking and grading information on all registered players.

Additionally, this programme will allow the governing body to provide individual membership services, including the offering of discounted goods and services to card-carrying members.

Attendance at DCU is limited to 250 delegates so each club will be requested to nominate a maximum of two.

Incidentally, the organisers have made clear the schedule will be tweaked to allow delegates watch the progress of Munster against Biarritz in the Heineken European Cup rugby final.

jwatterson@irish-times.ie