Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Wimbledon: Conor’s Irish eyes see dream Federer clash

The first Irish player competing in the men's singles event at Wimbledon for 27 years hopes his appearance inspires others back home from north and south to make it to SW19 in the future.

Today, weather permitting, Conor Niland from Limerick will make his Grand Slam debut — and if he comes through he's likely to set up a dream second round meeting with Roger Federer.

It's an extraordinary prospect for the affable 29-year-old, who recalls playing in Northern Ireland as a teenager in junior tournaments.

Belfast's Claire Curran featured in the doubles events here in 2006 and 2007, but the last Irishman to play on the Wimbledon grass was Matt Doyle way back in 1984 — a barren spell that has gone on far too long.

Thankfully Niland, after qualifying last week, has bridged the gap and hopes others will emulate him.

Interviewed in the players restaurant under the cover of the evening rain, he said: “I hope me being here can inspire people, north and south.

“I didn’t have somebody to look up to and say if he can do it, so can I.

“That’s a big thing in sport, to have somebody to look up to.

“There’s no reason why people back home can’t do it. In Limerick, we don’t have any indoor courts. So hopefully people can look at me and think, why not?,”

There will be millions around the world looking at him if he manages to beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the first round because then he would be in line for a spot on a show court taking on Federer, who should come through his opening contest against Mikhail Kukushkin.

Left hander Mannarino is ranked 53 in the world and will start as favourite, but Niland, ranked 148, fancies his chances of setting up a clash with the six-time champion, dubbed GOAT (greatest of all time) in the locker rooms.

“It would be fantastic to play Federer on Centre Court or Court Number One but I’m sure Mannireno is just as excited as I am about the prospect,” said the Irishman.

“I’ll just have to compete really well. It’s going be a tough match. He’s very, very good. I’m trying not to think about Federer though it’s at the back of my mind.

“It’s not as if you need a carrot to win a match at Wimbledon, but it throws up something a little extra in the whole mix.”

After years of playing on the Futures and Challenger tours, before progressing to ATP events, a Wimbledon debut is rich reward for Niland, who refused to give up on his dream as the years passed by.

“It was my fourth attempt to qualify for Wimbledon this year. I did quite well the other three times but I just couldn’t get through,” added Conor, who is staying in London with his brother Ray and will have his mum and dad over from Ireland to support him in the biggest match of his life.

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