Apart from their low ranking, one of the reasons Irish tennis players are not highly visible among Irish sportsmen and women is because there are not that many out on the circuit playing professionally.
Ireland currently has eight male and two female professional players listed inside the tours’ top 2,000. The rankings are made by the ATP and the WTA, which, along with the ITF, are the men’s and women’s ruling bodies.
What that means is those players who earn their living by competing in ATP and WTA tournaments, largely do so at the first rung of the game, Futures level.
In golf, Ireland has 15 players listed in the top 1,000 in the world rankings. The main difference with tennis is that that four of those players – world number one Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington – are inside the top 100. There are no Irish tennis players ranked anywhere south of 100.
The tennis Futures events generally have prize funds of around €10,000 or €15,000. The recent Irish Open held at Fitzwilliam was a Futures event and, as well as carrying a cash prize, the tournament also gave out ranking points to players.
James McGee is Ireland’s highest ranked male player and last week was 165 in the world, down from his career high of 146. He’s the only player from Ireland competing in the higher Challenger events, which have larger prize funds of €46,000.
Above the Challenger tournaments are various levels of World Tour level events such as the Queens tournament, which takes place in London before Wimbledon, with the four Grand Slams sitting pretty at the top.
The next best ranked Irish player is Sam Barry at 420; then comes Louk Sorensen, who is the only other active Irish player with McGee to have qualified for a Grand Slam singles event. Sorensen, who reached a career high of 175 in the world, last played this year on tour back in February in the Aegon GB Pro-Series in Glasgow, when he was ranked 192 in the world.
Daniel Glancy comes in at 861, with Peter Bothwell at 1,219, David O’Hare 1,464, Robert Dudley 1,746 and 17-year-old Bjorn Thompson at 1,991 making up Ireland’s professional group. There are others such as James Cluskey, who specialises in doubles and is ranked 177; Barryhas a doubles ranking of 240.
In the women’s game only two Irish players are listed in the senior rankings: Amy Bowtell is at 471 in the world, with Jenny Claffey at 925. Bowtell’s last listed tournament was a Futures event at Les Contamines-Montjoie, France, when she retired in the quarter-finals.
Claffey is playing this week but last competed in a tournament in late June at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where she made the quarter-finals before falling to the 554-ranked Dutch player Eva Wacanno. For a typical Future’s event, although the prize fund is around €10,000, the winner of the tournament receives just a fraction of that.
In a recent Futures tournament in Balikesir, Turkey, the typical tournament in which most of the Irish players compete, Basak Eraydin earned €1,433 for winning. On top of that she picked up 12 ranking points. When Claffey reached the quarter-finals in Sharm el-Sheikh she won €225 and two world-ranking points.
For a relative comparison, the Wimbledon prize fund this year was €39 million, with the winners Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams getting €2.68 million and 2,000 ranking points.
Futures and Challengers won’t raise the modest profile of Irish players. Conor Niland, Sorensen and McGee have shown that it’s only when they reach the main draw of a Grand Slam that people begin to take any notice.
But just because the current crop of players are relatively invisible doesn’t mean that there are none are out there grinding at the lower levels, trying to get their rankings up and hoping for a place in any of the four elusive majors.