Irish Open another step on tennis ladder for young Simon Carr

Prizemoney and ATP points on offer at Futures event mean a lot to Irish professionals

Simon Carr in action during his victory over Hugo Grenier in the Irish Open at Fitzwilliam. Carr has qualified for the main draw of the US Junior Open. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Simon Carr is slamming his racquet into a bag at the change over on court one in Fitzwilliam. The service game of the 17-year-old has deserted him and his fourth game is angry and self-recriminatory.

His unforced errors are mounting. He loses the game and trails 3-1. His first ever appearance in an AIG Irish Open quarter-final is trickling away.

On the other side of the net is the fourth seed Hugo Grenier. He is berating the umpire for a line call in the previous game. His hands are flat and upturned and he's performing a magnificent French pout. He walks away cynically clapping the umpire's performance and it's still just half way through the first set.

There are no ball boys. The players sometimes wearily pick up the ball on their service games or gently bat them to back court where they won’t step on them during play. There is no one to get their towels, draped over the side fence.


But this is gold to the small bunch of professional Irish players. A home Futures event with a prize fund of $25,000 (€21,412 – the women’s event is $15K (€12,848)) and ATP ranking points, Carr desperately wants to win. The points are the priority but his qualification for the US Open junior championship, which he learned about just hours before, is already a prize.

He digs himself out of the first set, his anger and annoyance directed in the right way and then wins the second, Grenier at 406 now a scalp for the 1167 -ranked Carr.

There are 111 Futures tournaments scheduled around the world this year. It is the first rung of the professional tennis world and for Carr another step out of the junior ranks.

There are eight Irish players in the men’s draw and the women have seven, a level of Irish representation not seen outside this country.

“It’s gone extremely well for Simon to get to all the (junior) Grand Slams. It has been a target achieved,” says father Tommy.

“He’s played a good few Futures. That has been a level you have to get used to. It’s not just the tennis. It’s playing guys maybe 10 years older than you. It’s not buddy, buddy like juniors, more dog eat dog.”

Realistic goals

In combination with last week’s $25 event in Carrickmines, there has been a Dublin swing. In previous years Ireland has piggy-backed on Futures events in the UK but the solo run of back-to-back Irish events, made possible by the $25k prize funds, gives some real tennis life to the city and hosts Fitzwilliam.

After an age of the Wimbledon stars arriving over to Dublin, the tournament has had to reinvent itself in a modern setting with realistic goals and aspirations. Federer and Nadal will not be coming to Dublin. But for Irish players it is a launchpad.

"It makes a huge difference," says Irish Davis Cup captain Conor Niland, who took Irish interest into the main draws of Wimbledon and The US Open in previous years.

“It’s a starting off point and it can’t be anything more the way it is structured. Futures is not a feasible professional career. It doesn’t pay enough until you get to the (higher level) Challenger and beyond. You play the Futures level to get the points so for Simon to be 17-years-old and winning matches in Futures is great.

“We had a run for a few years where we had nothing and that included Davis Cup when we were in Group III, we didn’t host so there was no live professional tennis in Ireland for five years.

The singles winner in the men’s event will get €3,240 and the leading woman €2,117. That’s not unequal prize money but reflects the tournaments being of a different category.

“It’s great,” says Carr. “It splits up the year, gives us a break and playing at home as well. Not travelling is huge. It’s huge. I’m not staying at home I’m about an hour away. I’m staying in my uncle’s about 10 minutes up the road. Nice homemade atmosphere. Chill out in the evening. It’s one of the nicest Futures of the year to play in.

“Just this morning I found out I was in the main draw of the US Open juniors by ranking, so I’ll probably be playing on the Futures Tour until then.”

Not for the first time on court, Grenier has walked over to an imaginary spot on the court that has visited untold damage on his match. It’s a mark just outside the tramline and he can’t believe the umpire missed it. His stare at the ground breaks into an arresting, forced hysterical laugh as he swats at the offensive swath of court.

“You did not see?” he says to the umpire. “It is impossible. You did not see it?”

Like Carr at 3-1 down in the first set, it has become Grenier’s career and wellbeing unravelling in front of him. Unlike Carr he can’t retrieve it. A foreign country, a surface faster than he might like it to be because of overnight rain, it is Futures tennis and always playing out of the comfort zone.

For Irish players Sinead Lohan, Anna Bowtell and Carr, who have had encouraging runs in the draws, 'Fitz' is as good as it gets in Futures events. And it shows the sport cares.