Tennis Ireland targets having senior player in the qualifying events of Grand Slams every two years
Chief executive Des Allen serves up his reasons for optimism
Castleknock’s James McGee (ranked 266) made it to the Wimbledon qualifying event this year but failed to make the main draw
Tennis Ireland believes it can have a senior player in the qualifying events of Grand Slams every two years. The governing body of the sport in Ireland says that following on from Conor Niland, who punched through in 2011 with appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open, Ireland should have some new names over the next number of years.
Castleknock’s James McGee (ranked 266) made it to the Wimbledon qualifying event this year but failed to make the main draw. Tennis Ireland hopes Sam Barry can get to the qualifiers next year or the year after, with Greystone’s teenager Amy Bowtell, following and in 2016 Sinead Lohan.
“Prior to the early 2000s the chances of an Irish player making it was very, very slim,” says Tennis chief executive Des Allen. “We put structures in, built the academy and now we have about 30 Irish players with rankings at underage and senior.
“In 2011 Conor played in two Grand Slams. He was the first product of the new structures. From 2008 forward he worked with Tennis Ireland coach Gary Cahill, who travelled with him. The upshot of that was Conor qualified for Wimbledon and US Open.”
With 101 million people worldwide playing tennis and 75, 000 of those in Ireland, tennis rates at fourth or fifth in participation levels here. But even those numbers struggle to provide a conveyor belt system for professional players.
“We haven’t had that culture,” says Allen. “In tennis there is no professional ethos in this country. There are 30 of them now. It takes four to five years from the first ranking point to a top 100 place . . . Our biggest challenge is putting coaches on the road with players to get them up the ranking.”
Allen is sympathetic to players like Magee, who has financial struggles to keep going. Winning a Futures event would earn only €3,000.
“The income in the sport at that level is derisory,” says Allen. “We don’t give the players the money to do what they want. We channel it into the National Tennis Centre and Academy for all of the top players. In terms of performance tennis we would spend €800,000. That is a significant spend.The next generation could reach Rio (Olympics) and Grand Slam qualifying events,” says Allen. “We are confident about that.”