Thursday, May 30, 2024

Niland: Home Davis Cup tie ‘brilliant’ for Irish tennis

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Ireland’s Davis Cup captain Conor Niland believes next February’s home tie against Austria will give the sport a potentially huge platform in this country.

On 3-4 February, Ireland will host an Austria team set to feature 2020 US Open winner and former world number three Dominic Thiem in a play-off with the aim of qualifying for World Group I, the second tier of the Davis Cup.

Taking place at a sold-out UL Arena in Limerick, it will be the first home tie for the Irish since 2015 and will be just over 40 years on from the only occasion when Ireland played at the elite top tier level when they took on John McEnroe’s USA in a relegation play-off at Dublin’s RDS.

Niland, who retired in 2012 after a seven-year professional career, serves in the non-playing team captain role that will select the final squad of five players and he told RTÉ Sport that February could have a positive knock-on effect especially if they can pull off a shock result against Austria.

“From a draw perspective for a World Group 1 playoff, it’s a tough ask because the (Irish) team that hasn’t played in the last couple of years will probably play this tie, but (it’s) a massive opportunity for us and just a brilliant opportunity for the Irish tennis public to watch some truly world class players playing, supporting their home team and hopefully we can upset them,” he said.

Niland, who grew up in Limerick, also outlined how his hometown came to be the venue for the tie as well as the notable interest which saw 3,000 tickets purchased within hours of going on sale earlier this month.

Ireland’s Simon Carr, Michael Agwi, Cian Blake (captain), Osgar O’hOisín and Jack Molloy

“We had some options and they said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s go for UL’. It’s something a little bit different. There was a little bit of a risk involved. We didn’t know what the take-up of tickets would be like. We had a feeling there would be that demand and I think they were sold out in 20 minutes when they came on last Monday,” he said, adding that another tranche of tickets are set to be released in January with the potential to cater for more seating capacity at the UL facility.

“Hopefully, we can have an amazing weekend. It’s going to be a great opportunity for the Irish tennis public to come together. We don’t get to do that a lot in our sport, here in this country, so we can’t wait.”

The long-term goal for the custodians of tennis in Ireland is to produce players who can go on to compete at the elite level and Niland pointed to some small green shoots that will require support and investment.

“We’ve got a couple of guys who are in college in the States who are going to go full-time over the next couple of years and hopefully we can get the supports for the older guys as they transition out of college. That can make a massive difference,” he said.

“Obviously, to create world class senior pros, we need world class junior pros so I think the next step is to get our 13, 14-year-olds into the grand slam junior events, get that experience, get them winning matches at those events and that will hopefully parlay into a professional career.

“We don’t have any junior players in and around that ranking at the moment so I think over the next three to four years, we need to get some of our top juniors into the top 100 in the world under-18 and then hopefully that can then create a path for them into the pros.”

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