LIMERICK’S Conor Niland has made history by becoming the first Irish tennis player since 1984 to qualify for the men’s draw at Wimbledon.
The Ballycummin man overcame Croatian Nikola Mektic in Roehampton, London on Saturday evening in a qualifying match that lasted over three days due to persistent rain delays.
Niland, 29, now faces Adrian Mannarino in the tournament proper on Tuesday, with the prospect of a match against the former world number one Roger Federer in the second round were he to prevail over the Frenchman, who is currently ranked 53rd in the world.
The Limerick man, ranked 184 in the world, has previously beaten Federer – albeit as a junior – but was not looking past his first round appearance at the championships this Tuesday.
Speaking on Sunday after a practice in Aorangi Park with his coach Gary Cahill, Niland said he was feeling good and was “looking forward to playing”, adding that he was happy to have a few days off after the qualifying match, which he won 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 over Mektic, ranked 274 in the world.
Watched by a sizeable crowd – including those who had travelled to London from Limerick especially to see him play, and several friends who live in London – Niland played superbly to win, battling not only the big serving Croat, but a fierce wind, planes passing over head and repeated rain delays.
He fell to his knees upon winning, and speaking to the Limerick Leader immediately afterward, said it was “hugely satisfying”.
“Of all the slams to qualify for, I think Wimbledon is the one I would have wanted most, it is so close to home and to have friends and family here as well is great and it is the kind of thing that people would understand at home – the fact that you are in the main draw at Wimbledon is a nice thing to have, so I am delighted,” he said.
Asked if he expected to get big support at Wimbledon, Niland laughed and said “I know I don’t play Andy Murray so hopefully”.