Irish Open: Valuable ranking points available at Fitzwilliam

Open letter from James Cluskey makes case for more clay courts in Ireland

A view of the artificial grass court in use at the Irish Open at Fitzwilliam. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.

Joshua Pim, Helen Wills Moody, Maureen Connolly and Rod Laver, winner of four Wimbledon titles and the Irish Championship in 1962, decorate the stairs in Fitzwilliam.

The club is aware that the Irish Open then and the Irish Open now are different animals as the top events in the game of tennis have moved on, found new markets, globalised and expanded beyond the range of Ireland and Fitzwilliam.

In that context relevance is everything and the Irish Open of 2015 must offer something. It's not Laver or Wills Moody and even Ireland's James Magee, who seeks bigger prizes on the Challenger events, is not competing.

But this week's tournament, a Futures event aimed at professional players outside a ranking of the top 300, holds an important position in Irish tennis, especially for the younger players, although, a counterpoint to the good vibe this was an open letter in the tournament program from Irish Davis Cup player, James Cluskey.


Written on a plane from Moscow and addressed to Irish Tennis, Cluskey urged clubs to reduce the number of artificial grass surfaces in Ireland and move towards clay.

All of the tournaments played at ATP World Tour level between now and the end of the season in November take place on hard surface, or clay.

“I played in Moscow this week and simply put, playing on a slow clay court such as the one I played on, was like playing a different sport,” said Cluskey.

That thorny issue aside – the Irish Open is being staged on artificial grass although there are some clay court s in the club – yesterday saw the importance of an F1 event as Irish teenager Bjorn Thompson made his way through past the top seed Hugo Nys from France and Sam Barry Beat Britain's Julian Cash.

Launch pads

With 27 world ranking points available for the winner, Futures events are launch pads for tour players as well as fall back tournaments for players like former British number two, Dan Evans.

Evans has mixed it in the Grand Slams and made the third round of the 2013 US Open. In his storied career he has beaten Japan's Kei Nishikori, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Australian's Bernard Tomic.

His experience adds another dimension to the challenges players such as Thompson and fellow teenager Simon Carr (beaten first round) face as they find their way in the professional game.

"It's the only time an Irish player has the chance to compete for world ranking points on home soil," says Fitzwilliam's Mark Carpenter.

“It’s very expensive to travel the world seeking these points and the Irish players can compete having home comforts and support.

“It’s a reasonably low level, a 15K Futures so there’s no player in the event that wishes to finish their career at this level. But it’s also the level that players like Nadal started their for any player, Irish or otherwise, it’s an opportunity for points and to get their ranking up.”

ATP events

James Magee is the last Irish winner, when he won the event in 2011 and has now kicked on and competes in the Challenger and ATP events and will hope to qualify for this year’s US Open.

In an ideal world the Futures status would be upgraded to the higher level Challenger but, as always, funding is the key issue and this week’s event will cost in the region of €50,000 to stage.

But in a sport where ranking is everything and determines what events players can or cannot play, the points available are currency to the players.

“It’s not just a starting point for players but also a point along the road as well,” says Carpenter.

“For the players competing this week those ranking points are very important in their careers especially at the level they are playing.”